By: Joseph Mechak, MD
On February 25, 2022 the CDC made its most recent and most significant change to its mask and COVID mitigation guidance. In short, the CDC is shifting from a ‘one size fits all’ approach to a tiered approach based on community transmission levels and hospitalization rates. The full guidance can be found here.
Currently, Montgomery County sits in the “Green” or “Low transmission zone.” In this zone, the guidelines state that masks are NOT required in indoor or outdoor spaces, including schools. We also expect that MCPS will vote to remove its mask mandate at its upcoming school board meeting. This is a big change for your children and your family. For some, this may feel like a reason to celebrate. For others, this may bring considerable anxiety, stress, or uncertainty. Both reactions are normal and acceptable.
The entire pandemic has been a learning experience. We [the scientific community] have learned from each wave and each new phase of the pandemic which has ultimately resulted in where we are today. Here are a few of the main points that I think are important to keep in mind as we enter the next phase of the pandemic.
- The CDC bases its decisions on science and data – From Day One of the pandemic the CDC has made thoughtful, evidence-based decisions based on the data available at the time. In the CDC’s view, the data available now supports removing mask mandates and ‘living with COVID’ rather than ‘running from COVID.’
- Masks mandates may be ending, but masks are not outlawed – Just because the mask mandate may be lifted, it does not mean that your child cannot wear a mask. Studies continue to show that high-quality, well fitting KN95 or N95s can provide the wearer protection against COVID. They remain a tool that your family can use. This is an important conversation to have with your child. Assess their feelings and anxieties about wearing/not wearing a mask. You may be surprised to hear what worries them. It may be catching COVID but it may also be feeling different if they are wearing a mask and their friends aren’t or vice-versa. We encourage you to have a dialogue and empower your child to help make the best choice for them.
- Guidance changes as case numbers change – These new guidelines outline mitigation measures based on the case load in the area. When cases are low, mitigation is minimal. As cases increase, the layers of protection increase with it. This allows for flexibility in the event of future waves or changes in the pattern of the virus. So, this does represent a turning point but it does not represent a ‘point of no return.’
- The vast majority of children experience mild illness – This has always been the silver lining to COVID. COVID is a less severe illness in the vast majority of children compared with adults. There have been deaths, ICU admissions, hospitalizations – all of which are a tragedy – but these are a very small portion of the overall COVID case load in children. Anecdotally, we have seen this at Potomac Pediatrics, especially during the more recent Omicron surge. We saw hundreds upon hundreds of COVID-positive children, of whom, the vast, vast majority had a very mild burden of disease.
- Vaccines work and are widely available – The primary objective of the COVID vaccine has always been to prevent COVID-related hospitalization and deaths. It remains very effective in this way. Vaccines have been available for those at highest risk for more than 1 year. The majority of our school-aged children are also eligible for vaccines. For younger children who aren’t yet eligible we expect more information in the coming weeks and months. We have protected the most vulnerable and are working towards protection for all
- Mental Health concerns continue to rise – We have seen a dramatic rise in anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and other mental health concerns throughout the pandemic. As the pandemic wears on, these cases continue to rise at alarming rates. For some, this ‘return to normal’ may ease anxiety and stress. For others, it may exacerbate these concerns. Continue to talk openly and honestly with your children about the pandemic, their feelings, and their concerns. We have expanded our mental health services to help accommodate this increased need. Reach out to learn more if your child is in need.
As we enter this new phase of the pandemic, tensions are high and perspectives differ. Remember to be respectful and open to different perspectives. Continue to talk with your children about their worries and feelings as these changes take place. If you have concerns, reach out to your pediatrician.
If you have questions about COVID, HealthyChildren.org has a ton of helpful articles and resources that are created or vetted by the American Academy of Pediatrics. If you cannot find an answer then, reach out to the office and we can help.