Camps with vaccinated kids can go maskless: CDC

Students and faculty join together in front of Yung Wing School P.S. 124 on May 21 in New York City. Michael Loccisano/Getty Images/TNS

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has loosened its guidance for those attending U.S. summer camps, announcing Friday that fully vaccinated campers will no longer need to wear masks or practice social distancing for the upcoming season.

For those who are not fully vaccinated for COVID-19, mask wearing is especially important indoors and in crowded outdoor settings, where physical distancing cannot be maintained, the guidance says. Although vaccinated campers do not need to wear masks, the agency urges day and overnight camp programs to be supportive of those who opt to mask up.

The agency’s updated guidance reflects the authorization of the Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents ages 12-15, and is in line with the CDC’s May 13 revision of mask guidance for vaccinated adults.

While the new rules allow adults and campers to unmask if everyone is vaccinated, the situation is different if there are children in the camp younger than age 12, as they currently are ineligible for vaccination.

If there is a mixture of vaccinated and un-vaccinated campers, then administrators need to decide exactly how they want to apply the recommendations, Erin Sauber-Schatz, who leads the CDC’s Community Intervention and Critical Population Task Force, said in a phone interview.

“If you have a camp setting where the older children are away from the un-vaccinated children and it’s easy to apply the vaccinated rules to them, then they can remove masks and not distance,” Sauber-Schatz said.

The agency had been criticized for its previous recommendation that children and adults at camps had to wear masks at all times — even outdoors, and even for vaccinated adults — unless they were eating or swimming. Campers had to remain three feet apart from one another, the CDC recommended, and sharing of toys, games and books was discouraged.

The earlier guidance was described as “stringent” by White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci earlier this month. Dimitri Christakis, an epidemiologist and the editor-in-chief of JAMA Pediatrics, called the rules “unfairly draconian” in an interview with New York magazine.

The new guidance comes as more parents return to work and seek opportunities for their children to resume social activities after more than a year at home in front of computers. Working mothers have shouldered the bulk of child-care duties, keeping some out of the workforce when schools were closed to in-person learning.

The CDC says the guidance is meant to supplement, and not replace, federal, state and other local regulations with which camps must comply. It also aims to protect the people who are not yet eligible for inoculation or not yet fully vaccinated, including children.

Sauber-Schatz said more than 2.5 million of those ages 12-15 in the U.S. have had their first dose of the vaccine since it was authorized for their age group on May 10.

“We really are at a point where by mid-summer to late summer the opportunity to have a camp setting where everyone is fully vaccinated is a reality, and it is exciting,” she said.

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