The COVID-19 pandemic is coming to an end—cases and deaths are declining throughout the U.S. as more people become vaccinated—and government officials are finally repealing mask mandates and easing other restrictions.
But for very young children, government restrictions are actually growing more onerous. In Michigan and New York, for example, state officials recently expanded mask requirements for kids at camps and day cares. Now, for the first time, kids between the ages of 2 and 4 will be expected to mask up as well.
"To help ensure maximum protections for staff and children at child care and camp programs, we are issuing this guidance so the facilities can implement basic but critical measures that will allow them to operate safely," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in a statement.
"We know that wearing a mask significantly reduces the spread of infection and should be part of the comprehensive strategy to reduce COVID-19-including for children age 2 and up," said Michigan's Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Government officials are technically following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While it's now OK for fully vaccinated individuals to shed their masks and cease social distancing, the vaccines aren't yet approved for children, so they still have to follow the rules.
Previously, however, it seemed to be common sense that forcing toddlers to wear masks would be an exercise in futility, regardless. Little kids are messy and squirmy! Moreover, their rule-following skills are still developing.
Thankfully, the risk of COVID-19 for little kids is slight: Only about 300 Americans under the age of 18 have perished from coronavirus. For young people, COVID-19 really is just the flu, statistically speaking.
The greater danger has been that a child will contract COVID-19 and then pass it on to an adult. But vaccination is rapidly reducing that danger to practically nothing: The vaccinated staff of schools, day cares, and summer camps have nothing to fear from unmasked 2-year-olds, and the toddlers themselves already possess vaccine-level protection by virtue of being kids. As Brown University economist Emily Oster put it, "Your Unvaccinated Kid Is Like a Vaccinated Grandma."
As more and more adults become essentially immune to COVID-19, there is little reason for government authorities to keep mask mandates and restrictions in place for unvaccinated children. There's no excuse—none whatsoever—for broadening the restrictions. Kids have put up with enough.