In a recent interview on MSNBC, White House coronavirus adviser Anthony Fauci said children who are not eligible to get vaccinated "should be wearing masks, no doubt about that." The federal government has not yet approved any of the COVID-19 vaccines for kids under the age of 12, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have advised all unvaccinated people over 2 to keep wearing masks.
Fauci expressed concern that unvaccinated, unmasked kids could contract the disease and spread it to adults who might be at greater risk of negative health outcomes.
But this is rapidly becoming an unpersuasive reason to require masks, given that all American adults who want to get a vaccine are basically able to do so, and 90 percent of the most vulnerable population—seniors—are already vaccinated. In other words, it's increasingly unlikely that a sick child would spread COVID-19 to someone who would be in serious danger of dying from it, unless this hypothetical person obstinately refused to take the vaccine. And in that case, it doesn't seem fair to continue to require children—who are not themselves particularly vulnerable to COVID-19—to continue masking up.
Make no mistake: Unvaccinated children have as much natural protection from COVID-19 as vaccinated seniors do, according to Brown University economist Emily Oster, who writes that parents shouldn't be so quick to abandon their summer plans due to the delta variant.
"Twice a close-to-zero risk is still close to zero," notes Oster.
It's worth keeping in mind that just 330 Americans under the age of 18 have succumbed to the coronavirus. While even one death is a tragedy, that number is lower than the number of children who died from pneumonia, according to New York magazine's David Wallace-Wells.
"It may sound strange, given a year of panic over school closures and reopenings, a year of masking toddlers and closing playgrounds and huddling in pandemic pods, that, according to the CDC, among children the mortality risk from COVID-19 is actually lower than from the flu," he writes. "The risk of severe disease or hospitalization is about the same."
Children don't really need to fear COVID-19 for themselves. The theoretically vulnerable adults they will encounter in summer camps, on playdates, and back in their classrooms when school resumes in the fall will all be vaccinated or have had the opportunity to become so. These are strong reasons to cease requiring masks for children, even if they are not yet eligible for the vaccines.