Triangle experts give advice about children wearing masks now that most mandates have been lifted

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — With COVID-19 mask mandates lifted in most public places in North Carolina, some parents have questions about what this means for their children.

Shonta Arrington and Justin Hairston brought Kinsley to Pullen Park to celebrate her second birthday. Since the pandemic started, they’ve focused on protecting her.

“Having a kid definitely changes my perspective,” said Arrington.

They keep her away from crowds and they enjoy outdoor activities.

“She hasn’t been in a grocery store in over a year,” added Hairston.

If you do take your children to stores or other public places, experts say masks still offer protection for children even if all adults aren’t wearing them anymore.

“For those children who are not yet old enough to be vaccinated, they remain our most effective strategy of preventing COVID transmission,” explained Dr. Emily Sickbert-Bennet, the director of infection prevention at UNC Medical Center.

She has done extensive research on masks during the pandemic.

“The most important thing is how well [the mask] fits,” she noted.

If you want your children to wear their masks, Dr. Tony Moody, suggests parents do the same.

“I would still mask with my kids in public, not because it’s a risk for me, but because I want to model behavior that I want my kids to follow,” explained Moody, a professor of pediatrics in Duke’s Division of Infectious Diseases.

He says the risk of serious complications from COVID is lower in children than it is in older people, but a small number of children do have severe disease, and children can transmit the virus to others.

“The tricky thing for parents with small kids is how do you want your kids to behave when they’re either in situations where they could get infected or situations where they could pass it on to somebody else,” he said.

Moody says masks protect both the child wearing the mask and others with whom they come in contact.

If children are outside, experts say the risk of transmission is much lower than indoors, and whether masks are necessary depends on how close children are getting or how many are in a group.

“Playing separately on two different play structures … that’s different than the kids who are going to be hugging and sitting on each other’s lap,” explained Sickbert-Bennett.

Moody added, “Imagine going on a playdate with a whole bunch of kids. Ideally, they would be masked,” but noted, “I’m a realist, so you know the masks are going to be gone after a while. Being outdoors is probably the key. If you’ve got kids who are going to be cooped up in a room watching a movie or something like that, they probably should be masked because it’s a greater risk scenario.”

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