Q: My son is younger than 12 and is thus unvaccinated. His camp requires masks when playing outside. I have a real concern about him overheating. What options are there for keeping him safe? Should I give him a certain haircut or type of mask, or tell him not to run? Will the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or D.C. (where we’re located) issue clearer guidance, so camps won’t require masks outside?
A: I’m reading your note as I’m watching a terrible heat wave take over the Pacific Northwest. Events at the Olympic trials in Oregon were delayed recently because of the heat, and the athletes weren’t even wearing masks. It’s easy to compare this with the D.C. area, because our humidity can be high and our heat index can reach or surpass 100. Put a kid on fake turf, and it gets even hotter.
But I’m not a doctor, so I turned to Lucy McBride, a doctor and close documenter of the coronavirus, for her scientific take on what to think of this. (You can check out her incredibly helpful newsletter at lucymcbride.com.) Her reply is clear: Masks are not needed when children are outside. “My main comment is that it’s terribly sad we are masking kids outside at all,” McBride says. “The risk of outdoor transmission is vanishingly small, and kids are very low risk for covid-19.”
Just so we’re clear, though, the news around masking, vaccinations and how to move forward in this pandemic is shifting under our feet. By the time you read this response, the World Health Organization and the CDC will probably have made new recommendations, possibly contradicting each other. So why is the advice so confusing, and why has it caused your son to have to wear a mask while outside? One word: risk.
Every recommendation, mandate and changing rule is about mitigating risk. Despite D.C.’s vaccination rate being quite high, with 52.9 percent of its population fully vaccinated as of Tuesday afternoon, the reality is that, when unvaccinated people come together, they can spread the virus to each other. And even though children have not been hit the hardest during the pandemic, your son’s summer camp runs the risk of becoming a mini-superspreader, possibly sending the virus home to those who are immunocompromised.
It’s easy for me to roll my eyes at having to wear a mask while outside, where transmission is quite low, but I also don’t have anyone in my home who’s immunocompromised. So, what should you do? “My best advice to parents is to help lobby [the D.C. Department of Health] to lift mask mandates for kids outside,” McBride says. “And if that isn’t realistic, make sure you send your child to camp well-hydrated and with [a] full and reusable water bottle. Make sure your child eats a solid breakfast, because the combination of dehydration and low blood sugar can cause weakness, lightheadedness and faintness. And then lobby DC DOH again.”
Try to stay patient, keep your child safe (from both the coronavirus and heat exhaustion), and stay up-to-date on the science. I recommend tuning in to NPR’s “1A”; a July 1 segment titled “Vaccination Nation: The Delta Variant Approaches” was about the latest science regarding recommendations from the WHO and the CDC, the new coronavirus variants and the overall risk we all face.
Keep your son hydrated, keep talking to the camp and take this one day at a time. Good luck.