'What if it was your kid?': Parents of young children feel forgotten as CDC loosens mask restrictions

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that fully vaccinated people can take off masks in most indoor spaces. Several states have begun lifting mask mandates. And some schools are relaxing the mask requirements.
But as many Americans celebrate the new guide as a step back to normal, some parents of young children who are yet to be vaccinated say they feel left behind.
"It wasn't time to party for me," said Janie Able, mother of two 7-year-old girls in Omaha, Nebraska. "My husband and I are vaccinated, but what about my children?"
She added, "I absolutely do not trust people to do the right thing and wear their masks if they are not vaccinated. And that will put my children at risk."
Research has shown that children are less prone to COVID-19. By May 6, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, over 3.85 million children in the United States had tested positive, representing 14% of all cumulative cases. However, the AAP report still states that hospitalizations and child deaths are uncommon.
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"A child is much less likely to contract the virus and spread it than adults," said Cole Beeler, medical director of infection prevention at IU Health University Hospital. "Children are just not as affected as older people."
Beeler described the CDC decision as a step in the right direction that shows the vaccines are effective and encourages people to get vaccinated.
"It sends the message that there are benefits to receiving the vaccine," he said. “It is an incentive for those who are reluctant to buy vaccines. It's a wonderful carrot on the end of the whip. "
With many of us now free to take our masks off, there are some who still don't want to
But Beeler said he recognized the concerns of parents with young children.
"As a parent, you need to do what you think is best to keep your children safe. This may mean that you continue to maintain restrictions on what you can do with your children," Beeler said. "All of this weighs up the risks and benefits for you as a family."
The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine is now available for children ages 12-15 as recommended by the CDC on Wednesday. Beeler said he anticipates children under the age of 12 will be vaccinated soon and hopes this will allay fears from some parents concerned about relaxed mask requirements.
While she understands that children are less susceptible to the virus, Able said her family will continue to wear masks to better protect their daughters from the virus.
"I know it's a small percentage, but there are children who have had it and are affected," she said in a broken voice. “What if it was your child? I would take a gamble. But my children? Never."
"A New Dimension" in Family Fatigue
Emily Smith, assistant professor of epidemiology at Baylor University, said the new CDC guidelines are "harsh and confusing" for parents who are tired of constantly making difficult decisions to keep their children safe from the virus.
"The new guidelines add a new dimension to this fatigue for families with young children who have not yet received their vaccines," she said.
In a Facebook post, Smith said the new guidelines depend heavily on the "honor system I no longer trust" and may leave people who are still at risk, including children, high-risk adults, and communities with poor access to health care and Health vaccinations.
"There are still large numbers of high-risk, unvaccinated people who rely on people to tell the truth about whether they are vaccinated or not and act accordingly using masking," she wrote.
Yvonne Maldonado, chairwoman of the AAP's infectious diseases committee, said in a statement Friday that younger children should continue to wear face masks in public until they are eligible to be vaccinated.
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"We've already seen how the masks helped prevent the spread of respiratory infections in schools, camps, and other community facilities, especially when everyone wears them, washes hands, and followed other infection control guidelines," Maldonado said.
But Sarah Howland's 15-month-old daughter is too young to wear a mask, she said. While Chicago's Howland first became excited about the new guidelines, she quickly grew anxious and frustrated as she pondered how this might affect her young daughter.
"I'm not sure I trust that it is best for my daughter to loosen up the instructions," she said. "I'm afraid that she will get sick and have long-term effects that we don't understand yet."
Since her daughter is yet to be vaccinated or unable to wear a mask, it gives her some level of peace and protection when seeing others around their masks, Howland said.
"I feel like parents with young children are not fully taken into account in these decisions," she said. "A mask feels simple to protect our children."
Suzanne Publicover, a mother of 3 year old and 15 month old in Washington, DC, agreed and plans to continue wearing her mask.
"I was extremely upset and frustrated with the new guidelines," said Publicover. "It seems extremely premature and like they didn't even consider parents and young children."
"It's annoying that we were left behind," she added.
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Rebecca Muller, who has a 3-year-old son in Collingswood, New Jersey, said the new guidelines put pressure on parents to make tough decisions about where it is safe to take their children.
"It wasn't a big deal wearing a mask," she said. "If protecting someone is a step, why not?"
Contact News NOW reporter Christine Fernando at cfernando@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: COVID-19: New CDC Mask Tour Emphasizes Parents Of Young Children

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