Although she has been vaccinated against COVID-19, Natalia Belt plans to continue wearing the mask this week when the state lifts the masking requirements in a big step towards a return to pre-pandemic normalcy.
“I just think it’s important,” Belt, the mother of 10- and 6-year-old girls, said. “I want to model them for them and I feel like we can still (as people) get vaccinated get sick. It won’t go wrong, but I don’t want to risk infecting my kids. Personally, I will continue to do the right things for them.”
When he saw his daughters running through Portland’s Deering Oaks playground one recent morning, Belt said he doesn’t expect much to change for his family in the coming weeks, even as the state moves to lift the physical distancing and masking requirements. “Until child vaccination comes out, I think we will continue to do the usual business to the point of COVID,” Belt said.
Gov. Janet Mills announced on May 14 that Maine would adopt U.S. CDC guidelines so that fully vaccinated adults do not have to wear facials inside. Mills clarified the guidelines in an executive order last week to raise the requirement for face-to-face coverage in all public settings, with the exception of schools and daycare centers.
The reduction in restrictions, which will take effect on Monday, is seen by many as a positive step. But for parents of young children, the changes present a dilemma. CDC guidelines still state that those who are not fully vaccinated, including those under the age of 12 for whom there is no vaccine yet, should continue to wear facial covers indoors.
Parents, especially those who are vaccinated, find themselves in the difficult position of having to navigate guidelines that may apply to them differently than their children and having to continue to apply pandemic rules such as masking and social distancing with young children while many adults give them up. . Others worry about their children’s health as the restrictions are tightened and they sit back on the latest tips.
“I think people are frustrated in general,” said Dr. Laura Blaisdell, vice president of the Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “We’re really done with this pandemic and unfortunately the final mile is the youngest people in our community and we just have to keep protecting them. I think parents are frustrated. When you have a mixed and vaccinated family, it’s complicated to find out how to behave and what is safe ”.
The academy continues to recommend that children under the age of 2 wear masks until they cannot be vaccinated. Children older than 12 years or older can get the Pfizer vaccine, but it can still take months for the vaccine to be available to younger children. Pfizer has conducted clinical trials in children 6 months to 11 years of age and expects to receive authorization for vaccines in early 2022. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have also conducted clinical trials, but have not yet obtained authorization for patients. under 18 years.
Joy Engel, a mother of two in Cape Elizabeth, said the new orientation presents a complicated situation for parents. “I wish these guidelines would have changed when everyone in this country could get a vaccine,” said Engel, 38. I don’t have the option to vaccinate my children right now, so I wish it had been lifted after everyone could choose whether or not you want a vaccine. “
Engel has been vaccinated, but said she plans to continue wearing the mask to model her 4-year-old son’s rules. Her family will also continue to limit the activities they do, as Engel said she has no way of knowing if unvaccinated adults who can wear COVID choose to throw away their masks.
“Children are not immune to it,” Engel said. “We do not know the long-term effects on children. We are beginning to see that adults have lasting symptoms. I just don’t feel like I’m putting my children’s health at risk. My baby can’t wear a mask, so I’m sure I won’t wear it anywhere. “
Some parents said they do not feel the need for their children to continue masking, as many have mild or no symptoms compared to adults. Ian Campbell, whose 7-year-old son is a student at North Yarmouth Academy, said he has no plans to wear masks outside of school, where masks are still required. Both Campbell and his wife are vaccinated and all three had COVID last winter.
“Looking at the risks stratified by age, why do we do it in the summer?” said Campbell, 41. “Am I really going to go into a place without a mask and have my 7-year-old son wear a mask? It feels bad. ”
At the same time, Campbell said that if his family was in a store or other business and his son was asked to put on a mask, they would comply. “If a store told us something, we would absolutely put it on,” Campbell said. “We don’t do much about it; we just don’t see the need to wear it. “
No data were obtained last week on the number of COVID-19 cases in children under 12 in Maine. As of Thursday, there had been 12,414 cases, about 19 percent of the total, in people under the age of 20 since the pandemic began. No child in Maine has died from the virus. There are about 160,000 children under the age of 12 out of the total population of 1.3 million people in Maine.
Vaccines are highly effective and only a small percentage of fully vaccinated people will still get COVID-19 after being exposed to the virus that causes it, according to the U.S. CDC. As statewide vaccinations increase in the elderly, the risk for unvaccinated children decreases, but does not disappear altogether, Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah said at a news conference. last week.
“So if you’re 9, 10, 11 years old and still not fit for vaccines, wearing a mask is still a good way to protect yourself,” Shah said. “Masks protect you from transmitting the virus, but they also protect you or your child from the virus.”
Blaisdell, the vice president of the AAP, also said it is important for children to continue to mask and socially stay away until a vaccine is available, especially because the main variant in the U.S. right now has been shown to be variant B117 efficient in transmission between children. As of Thursday, there were more than 840 cases reported in Maine schools in the past 30 days and dozens of open outbreak investigations.
“I understand that people have this general feeling that children don’t get sick from the disease or that they’re not great at transmitting it, but if you look at where the new cases come from, they come from younger people,” he said. Blaisdell said: “We have a lot of outbreaks in schools and these outbreaks are still very disruptive. our younger individuals “.
David Curry, whose granddaughter Avery is scheduled to start kindergarten in Scarborough in the fall, said the mask and distancing guidelines have been confusing to her, and that she has noticed a change in her behavior over the past year. “Isolation came to her,” said Curry, who lives south of Portland.
Maine lifted the mandate for outdoor masks on April 27, but said masks were still recommended in environments where physical distancing is difficult to maintain. Curry said her daughter continues to make Avery wear an outdoor mask because she is not vaccinated. It can be confusing, especially when other families take different approaches.
“You can see it here,” he said gesturing in the playground full of children and parents from Deering Oaks, some of whom wore masks and others who didn’t.
“She questions it,” Curry said. “She is OK. We try to explain to her that she is not vaccinated, which she understands. I would like to see them all vaccinated when the school opens ”.
Nearby, Jamie Johnson arrived at the playground with his 4-year-old daughter, who asked her mother to wear the mask before going to play. “She said,‘ Don’t wear the mask. You can’t be here, “Johnson said.” If he has to, I feel he should. They don’t understand. “
Johnson said he believes it is important for children to continue to wear masks and that he is already nervous about the prospect of people who are not vaccinated but do not want to wear masks that pose a risk to children when the guidelines are more relaxed.
“Unfortunately for people with children, it won’t change much,” Johnson, 36, said. “Even though my husband and I are vaccinated, our children are too young to be. I wouldn’t put them in a situation I personally haven’t lived in for the last year. It hasn’t really changed anything for them. I’ll continue to not to make them go to big meetings or be unmasked around other children. “
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