Parents’ pressing pandemic questions and Public Health answers – PUBLIC HEALTH INSIDER


Washington state lifted vaccination verification requirements on March 1 and the indoor mask mandate ended on March 11. You’d think that parents such as myself would jump for joy that we no longer have to search frantically for our family’s vax cards and budget for multi- sized face masks.

Parents’ pandemic-related burdens are unique as we both look after ourselves and plan for the well-being of our entire family. It’s no surprise that at this stage of the pandemic, parents are faced with uncertainty, and a ton of tricky questions. Here are a few of the questions I received from parents that I know:

Jose Z.’s

work requires that he use crowded residential spaces, like elevators. He masks at work to protect his family at home. He has a 6-year-old daughter and a 6-month-old boy. Jose is weary of so many changes to the recommendations from health experts. He and his wife have been cautious at home, including washing hands often. They’re worried about the baby. They keep him covered with a blanket when they go out.

mom holding baby

Q: “We keep the baby covered when we go out. Is covering the baby with a blanket enough to protect him from COVID-19?”

HAS: Good question. During the pandemic we have seen the use of cloth, in masks, used to protect against airborne particles. A loosely placed stroller blanket, under close supervision, can provide some protection, although it’s important to make sure it doesn’t obstruct the baby’s breathing. Truth is, the best way to keep the baby safe is to make sure the people around the babe are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Logan P.’s

daughter likes her mask and she wears it whether she’s around other kids on the playground, or not. She’s not afraid to be teased about masking. She’s been raised to be vocal and stand up for herself. At eight years old she has worn masks for a significant part of her childhood. Logan thinks that masks should stay. Logan asked,

Q: “I think it’s kind of too soon to lift mandates? I’m overly cautious. Masking in schools has been working as far as we can see.”

mask child giving a peace sign with her hands

HAS: Even with mandates lifted parents may choose to continue to be diligent. “Although the threat has decreased, it is still present, and layered strategies (including masking) continue to be both important and necessary to limit spread and associated health impacts,” explains Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health-Seattle & King County. “This means ensuring everyone who is eligible has completed their primary series and first booster dose; optimizes indoor air quality in public spaces and homes; wears high-quality face masks such as N95, KN95 and KF 94 when needed or desired; isolates and tests when symptoms develop and knows how to access treatment.”

Either way, your child should feel safe when choosing to mask in school. We published a blog in March that outlines why the mandates were lifted and some important considerations for families as they make decisions about masking. Here are a few of the key takeaways:

  • COVID-19 has had disproportionate impacts for some communities. Decisions to remove masks for many families that have experienced more direct loss due to COVID-19 or are experiencing the continued economic and other hardships are different than those who haven’t. Some may choose to continue to mask to protect others who are at higher risk. Acknowledging these inequities and supporting communities is something we can all do during this time of transition.
  • Assess the health risks within your family including whether your child or family members are immunocompromised or have conditions that put them at higher risk for severe COVID-19 disease. A conversation with your child’s pediatrician or your health care provider may help assess the risk. If you don’t have a provider, Public Health’s access and outreach program (1-800-756-5437) can help connect you to medical providers and health insurance options.
  • Vaccination and boosting when eligible are some of the most important ways to protect against severe impacts from COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccine is currently not approved for those under five. What we know from the data is that severe outcomes from COVID-19 are less likely for this younger age group, but parents may also want to consider the impacts to family members if a child gets COVID-19, such as time off work to care for a child. Families of kids who are unvaccinated are balancing these risks with the benefits of children no longer masking. It’s not always an easy decision, one way for all of us to support families who have children in this age group is to get vaccinated ourselves, which can provide a more protective environment for them.

Jazmyn B.

is a mom and essential worker. She masks at work, delivering groceries. She avoided enrolling her child in daycare.

“No mask mandates anymore? My baby can’t wear a mask because she’s too young and there are no vaccines for her age group; she’s so tiny. “

Jazmyn B.

Q: “No mask mandates anymore? My baby can’t wear a mask because she’s too young and there are no vaccines for her age group; she’s so tiny. As for daycare, is it safe for unvaccinated kids?”

kids in a childcare

HAS: This mom’s concerns are valid. If your child is in child care it is important to know that the staff are implementing safety measures. A fully vaccinated staff and good indoor ventilation are good signs. Don’t be afraid to ask about hand washing, testing and symptom monitoring. For more guidance on child care settings visit our website.

Also, it is a good idea to get your child up-to-date on all recommended immunizations. Doctor’s offices are safe: healthcare staff are required to be vaccinated for the safety of the children they serve. And while we’re still waiting for vaccines to be approved for children ages 0-4, the wait is because the vaccines are being carefully tested for safety. In the video below, beloved local pediatrician Dr. Ben Danielson speaks about vaccine for younger children and safety measures.

Jaqueline H.

has two boys, ages 11 and 16, both of whom play sports. She has asthma, so she’s been very cautious. When her youngest had a soccer tournament in Las Vegas, the family didn’t want to go because of COVID-19 fears, but they didn’t want their son to feel left out either. Her son wears a mask to protect his mom, even when teammates don’t. If it rains, he takes it off.

kids running towards a soccer ball

Q: “I was worried, but I feel comfy because it’s outdoors. But I do wonder if you can get COVID-19 if it’s raining? Can it travel in the air in the rain? The mask is hard to wear in the rain.”

HAS: Soccer is considered a low-risk sport as it’s a moderate contact sport and mostly played outdoors where COVID-19 transmission is drastically reduced. Therefore there is reduced risk associated with removing the mask in the rain, especially if your family and child are up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccines. For updated guidance on athletics read this guidance document from the Washington State Department of Health.

Ivonne S.’s

six-year-old twins attend public school and they are super excited to not wear masks. The family felt comfortable because each child got two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. With variants like BA.2, Ivonne wonders if there is any talk about boosters for younger kids.

Q: “I don’t have a mistrust about the booster, but I want to know more about how it’s tested and the efficacy of giving a booster shot to kids.”

twins

HAS: It’s normal to worry about your children’s safety in the face of new variants. Dr. Ben Danielson says that COVID-19 vaccines are pretty good at protecting against variants – watch Dr. Danielson explain in this video. And you can rest assured that boosters are well tested and effective. While it’s not yet recommended that children under 12 get boosters (though children 5-11 years old who are immunocompromised should receive a third dose of vaccine), kids and teens 12 years and older should get a first booster dose to be fully protected:

  • Five months after the second dose of Pfizer or Moderna
  • Two months after one dose of J&J

Boosters are an additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine that increases the strength and duration of protection. Boosters stimulate your body’s immune system when the first vaccines fade over time. We get regular boosters with other common vaccines like tetanus. Learn more about boosters on our COVID vaccine resource page and/or check out this video from the Washington Department of Health about how the COVID vaccines are being made.

Thanks to all these parents for their excellent questions and for wanting to learn more about COVID-19! For more information visit kingcounty.gov/covid.

Originally published April 15, 2022.

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