As the U.S. prepares to reopen fully, health officials are urging people not to stop wearing a face mask if they are in public or crowded indoor places amid the rising cases of COVID-19 Delta variant infections.
Despite the country's high vaccination rate, with 47 percent of the population fully vaccinated as of June 2021, doctors have some concerns over the possibility of another spike in cases. This time, the worry is among children below 12 years old, now considered the vulnerable population since they have yet to receive the vaccine. So, how can parents protect their children from the Delta variant if they can't get the jab?
In an interview with CNN, Dr. Peter Hotez of the National School of Tropical Medicine recommended that children "old enough to wear masks" should do so to protect themselves from the Delta variant.
Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases also said that children out in the community should be wearing a face mask.
US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy agreed with the recommendations that families should consider wearing face masks at home if they have unvaccinated children, especially if the parents' jobs "have a high degree of exposure."
Why Are Children Vulnerable?
American Academy of Pediatrics chair on Infectious Diseases, Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, explained that "a 'pod' of vaccinated individuals" now exists around the children, making them more vulnerable to the virus. She also agreed that it's best to continue practicing social distancing in crowded settings.
Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen said that the Delta variant, now present in 85 countries, is highly transmissible than the Alpha variant by as much as 60 percent. According to the experts, 20 percent of the new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are classified as Delta variants.
"There is a higher likelihood that those unvaccinated people are going to contract Covid-19 -- and that includes children," Wen said.
The variant is also more virulent, causing more hospitalizations and severe illnesses, and while the kids are not likely to suffer severe symptoms or die from COVID, there are studies suggesting they could become "long haulers."
Choose to Be Cautious
The timing of the Delta variant spread coincides with summer camp and summer activities in the U.S. The experts understand that parents have different takes on what counts as risky in their situation. However, Wen said that it's best for families to choose to be cautious. If there are backyard barbecues, playdates or gathering with friends, it would be better to hold off on these plans for unvaccinated households.
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For children below 12 years old who are going to summer camp, wearing a face mask and social distancing are still necessary. On the other hand, some summer camps require children to be vaccinated before they can join.
Families that plan to go on road trips are also encouraged to exercise care and caution. The experts believe that the risks decrease when the activities are done outdoors, so it might be better to go to parks than indoor amusement centers or have outdoor meals than indoor meals.
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