For lots of people, the CDC’s new recommendation on face masks (you can ditch ‘em if you’re fully vaccinated) came as news worth cheering. But for parents, the announcement was more of a head-scratcher. With a vaccine for little kids still likely months away, that leaves children in a different boat than adults. So, though you may be ready to gleefully dunk your face masks into the trashcan, the reality is that your unvaccinated little ones are going to need to mask up a little longer. 

Is it safe to bring your kids into public—and if so, do they need masks? 

What we’re finding is that people who are fully vaccinated are very well protected against getting COVID and against becoming seriously ill with COVID. That means that if you’ve gotten your shots (and waited the two weeks for them to kick in), it’s safe to let down your guard—or, in this case, your mask.

But for little kids who aren’t eligible for the vaccine yet, it’s important that parents continue to take extra steps to protect them. Kids over 2 should continue to wear masks in public. Now, if everyone around them is vaccinated and/or masked, their risk of catching or transmitting COVID goes down a bunch. The problem is, at the grocery store, local diner, or museum, you don’t really know if the unmasked people around you are fully vaccinated. Your risk is, of course, greater in areas where the vaccination levels are lowest.

Throughout the pandemic, children have seemed to have been less affected by COVID than their older counterparts, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune to it. Even though kid cases relatively rare, we have seen cases where COVID can lead to serious complications, long-lasting symptoms (such as long-term loss of taste and smell), or even death. A mask provides an extra layer of protection, so for now, it’s best to keep masks on unvaccinated kiddos when you’re out and about. 

Because young kids cannot be vaccinated yet, it’s also a good idea for tykes over 2 to continue to wear masks and practice other safety measures (frequently washing hands, keeping distance, etc) while at school. 

Should my child still wear a mask outside?

The risk of spreading COVID appears to be much lower outside than inside, so as long as your child is playing outdoors somewhere where they can maintain some distance from other unvaccinated, unmasked people, it’s probably safe to go unmasked. However, at a crowded playground where it’s trickier to keep distance, it’s a smart idea to keep the mask on. Plus, at the very least, having a mask on keeps kiddos from touching their mouth and nose after pawing all over playground equipment, which reduces the spread of germs.

RELATED: I'm Vaccinated, but My Kids Aren't...What's Safe?

Is it safe for my child to play with unmasked people?

Playing with unmasked vaccinated adults and kids is fair game but gathering with unmasked unvaccinated people could be playing with fire…especially if you’re indoors. And the risk creeps up as the number unvaccinated households you’re interacting with increases. If you’re going to meet up with unvaccinated folks, opt for outdoor hangs when possible, limit the number of households you’re with at a time, and have your child wear a mask.

How do I explain to my child that they have to wear a mask and grown-ups don't?  

There’s no harm in you continuing to wear a mask, so the easiest thing to do is to keep rocking your face-coverings with pride. Tots tend to tune out our lectures (messages delivered to the “front door” of a child’s mind) but pay sharp attention to what they see us do or overhear us say (messages delivered to the “side door” of the mind), so modeling mask-wearing can go a long way to convince your kiddo that it’s important.

If my child gets vaccinated, do they need to keep wearing a mask?

Right now, the Pfizer vaccine is approved for children 12 to 15. Two weeks after your tween’s second dose, they’re considered fully vaccinated, which means they don’t need to keep wearing a mask, according to the latest CDC recommendations. That means they can go to long-awaited sleepovers and playdates with fellow vaccinated friends with little fear of getting—or making other people–sick!

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.