The Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said this week that 12- to 15-year olds at camp in the USA this summer may take off their masks outdoors, if they are vaccinated.
This is a significant step towards bringing outdoor activities back to normal, welcomed by those not happy that kids would have to wear masks while active outdoors in the summer heat.
The guidance came in response to a question from an NBC reporter at a White House COVID-19 task force news briefing on May 5.
CDC summer camp guidance released April 24 had been more restrictive, noting, as Viristar covered in an earlier post, that all people in camp facilities should wear masks at all times with exceptions for certain people (such as children under 2 or those whose disability prevents safe mask use), or for certain settings or activities, such as while eating and drinking or swimming.
(The guidance released then also highlighted health equity concerns, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minority groups, among other systemically disenfranchised populations.)
The CDC’s guidance encouraging near-universal mask use at camps was made in an effort to avoid the out-of-control spread of the coronavirus as occurred during summer camp in the summer of 2020.
The guidance was intended to reinforce good public health practices that had been shown to minimize COVID-19 transmission in the summer camp setting, such as at a group of summer camps in Maine, described in a case study.
Some, however, considered the mask-wearing guidance to be too restrictive, especially for healthy, vaccinated children outdoors.
The relaxed guideline depends on a vaccine being authorized for 12- to 15-year-olds. Authorization is expected for the Pfizer vaccine soon.
This brings camp-specific guidance (which may be generalized to other outdoor programs not specifically camps) more closely in line with general guidance from the CDC regarding mask-wearing by vaccinated persons outdoors.
The general CDC guidance on this topic, released April 27, noted that people in the USA who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks outdoors while walking, running, hiking or biking alone, or when in small gatherings with members of their own households.
It should be noted that the May 5th language from the CDC Director was not entirely definitive. The Director stated, “If we have authorization for 12- to 15-year-olds, and they can get vaccinated before going to camp, that’s what I would advocate for, so that they can take their masks off outdoors.”
Despite this language, the CDC’s written guidance on mask-wearing at camps has not changed.
Overall, the words of the CDC director represent a significant step in a return to normalcy for outdoor programs in the US. With the availability of vaccines in the US—which a year ago was considered to perhaps not be a possibility until 2024—real progress against the pandemic is being made. In the US, 33 percent are fully vaccinated.
That said, COVID-19 remains uncontrolled in the US—with more than 690 deaths each day from COVID-19—and is uncontrolled in many other nations as well.
Yet some countries, such as Taiwan, Iceland and New Zealand, managed to control the pandemic using non-pharmaceutical interventions (without vaccines), many months ago. And due to early, widespread and effective use of basic public health measures such as mask use, distancing, and contact tracing, life in those places is essentially back to normal, with domestic camps and outdoor programs carrying on largely as before, with mask-wearing not necessary—even since the summer of 2020.
Nonetheless, the message from the CDC that fully vaccinated kids ages 12-15 can enjoy outdoor activities this summer at camp in the US without their masks, with minimal risk, will be greeted with joy by many kids, and their parents and guardians.
Last summer was tough for outdoors-loving kids in the US, and around the world. It’s looking like the summer of 2021 will be much better.