IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The CDC's new mask rules are freeing — unless you've got a small child who can't take theirs off

The new mask rules only apply to vaccinated people — so every parent of a child under 12 has to convince them to keep a mask on for the foreseeable future.
A girl in Corona, Queens, in April 2020. No Covid-19 vaccines have been approved yet for children under 12. Johannes Eisele / AFP via Getty Images file

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last Thursday that it was revising its guidance and eliminating the indoor mask requirements for vaccinated people in most places, my group text of mothers — which has gotten me through the last 15 months — responded immediately.

“Tell me you don’t have young children without telling me," wrote one of my friends, in reference to the ongoing Twitter and TikTok meme challenge. "The CDC will go first.”

If I hadn't been crying, I would have laughed. Parents — and our children — have been asked to take on so much over the last year, and, right now, there is no approved vaccine for kids under 12; we’ve been told that it might come in September. So, under the new guidelines, my young kids — everybody's young kids — have to stay masked.

It's as though the CDC wholly ignored a huge swath of this country, and it was a punch to the gut.

I understand that the new guidance is a really positive and exciting step for a lot of people. But removing indoor mask requirements for the vaccinated with no verification is essentially doing away with masks altogether; doing so before kids under 12 are eligible to get a vaccine is both irresponsible and one more example of how parents have been asked to bear so much of the burden of this pandemic.

"We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

"Normalcy"? I now have to find child care to go to the grocery store, because everyone is going to be unmasked and I have no idea whether the unmasked person who coughs on my 4-year-old in the produce aisle has bad allergies or Covid-19.

It's as though the CDC wholly ignored a huge swath of this country, and it was a punch to the gut.

I don’t know how I am going to convince a toddler to keep wearing a mask when all of the adults around him have shed theirs.

Like so many parents in America, the last year has been one of my darkest and most difficult. My husband, a doctor, moved out at the start of the pandemic because we weren’t sure what kind of danger his job presented to our family. I got pregnant and gave birth while wearing a mask; most of my close friends and family — including the aunt for whom my daughter was named — haven’t been able to meet my baby. I spent months scrubbing my toddler’s hands until they were raw every time we left home or came back; I covered half of his face in a mask for more than a year; and I swaddled him in four layers of clothes during the colder months when his preschool adopted a mainly outdoor curriculum in order to remain open.

But we are among the lucky ones: Our family is still together, my husband and I still have our jobs, my parents risked their own health to be with us, and our beloved preschool adapted to provide a safe and loving space for our children when I went back to work. I know that many other women and other families — especially women of color and their families — have had it so much worse.

I had begun to believe that there were bright days ahead of us — that my little family had made it through to the other side of this. But I don’t know how I am going to convince a toddler to keep wearing a mask when all of the adults around him have shed theirs. I do know that kids are not immune from Covid-19, and that we don’t know what toll the new variants can have on children. I don’t know how I am supposed to trust that the hordes of maskless people we’ll soon see around us indoors are truly vaccinated and not just unvaccinated people taking advantage of “the honor system”; after all, as of Monday in my state of Maine, only 48.8 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

When you wear a mask, you’re protecting others. And I want my children protected.

I’m not without empathy for the bigger situation — after all that we’ve gone through, of course people want to have a Hot Vaxx Summer. (My fantasy Hot Vaxx Summer is just me, alone in a hotel room where nobody asks me any questions or has me make a decision for 24 hours.) But I’m hoping that those who now have a choice to mask or unmask — especially those unvaccinated people who have been asked to abide by the honor system for our health and safety — will have empathy for me, for my kids, for other parents and for other young children. I'm asking those people to please, keep your masks on until every person, big and small, in this country can choose to get a vaccine, just like you have been able to make your choice.

The United States is so close to the end of this pandemic. On behalf of a deeply tired mother, please, just keep your mask on for just a few more months. I just want my kids — all of our kids — to be safe.