Thanks to vaccines against COVID-19, the summer of 2021 feels very different from the summer of 2020. Restaurants, stores, and tourist attractions are starting to open again, people are gathering, and families are planning vacations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that if you are fully vaccinated, you don't have to wear a mask or social distance, except when required by law or other regulations.
But what do you do if you have children who aren't vaccinated?
Currently, only people 12 years and older can be vaccinated. While it's looking hopeful that we will be able to vaccinate younger children sometime later in 2021 or early 2022, it's not going to happen this summer. And while most of the time children don't get seriously ill with COVID-19, it certainly can happen.
This doesn't mean that families with children younger than 12 need to isolate all summer — but it does mean that families need to be careful and thoughtful as they plan summer activities.
Staying safe if children haven't received the COVID-19 vaccine
Here are some tips that will help:
Make sure everyone who can be vaccinated is vaccinated. By "everyone," I mean parents, siblings, and any other family and friends that you regularly see — or would like to see. The vaccine is widely available, and serious side effects are very, very rare.
Stay outdoors as much as possible. The risks are lower. Children don't have to wear a mask outdoors if they are with their immediate family — or in a small gathering with all vaccinated people. If there is a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated, they must wear masks.
Avoid crowds — even outdoors. While wearing a mask helps to decrease the risk, crowded places and events can be risky, even for those who are vaccinated. The risk may not be that high in communities with low COVID-19 case counts, but you just can't know where the people in the crowd have traveled recently. As fun as ball games and theme parks are, it would be better to wait until next summer.
Be cautious in indoor spaces. Unvaccinated people, including children, should wear masks in indoor public spaces. (In crowded indoor spaces, vaccinated people should wear masks too, but we've already talked about avoiding crowds.) If you have children, it may be best to save the indoor seating at restaurants for date night. There's always takeout. Have a picnic.
When visiting with other families with children, the safest thing is for all the children to wear masks. If you have had other families in your bubble, keep up the conversations about what everyone is doing, and the ground rules for your bubble, to be sure that it's a safe enough bubble for your children to go mask-free. And be sure that the families know to report any exposures or symptoms to others in the bubble — and isolate themselves as needed.
Parents, older siblings, and close friends and family may want to mask up sometimes, even if vaccinated. No vaccine is perfect. Since you are the ones with the most consistent contact with the unvaccinated children in your family, taking some extra precautions isn't a bad idea. This doesn't mean you have to wear a mask all the time. But carry one with you and err on the side of wearing it when you are out in places where social distancing is tough and there could be unvaccinated people.
As much as we are all worn out by all the restrictions and ready to get back to normal life, it's better to be safe than sorry. Also, we've yet to see what will happen with new variants, and in communities with low vaccination rates. We've made it this far, we can make it a little farther. It's worth it to keep those we love healthy.