Kids in masks? Local parents weigh in

CHILDREN ATTENDING MARY Hogan School last fall all wore masks because of COVID-19, but now with universal mask mandates gone, parents have to decide on masks for their children. Independent file photo/Megan James

I don’t think it’s reasonable to lift mask mandates for adults yet still expect young children to wear them. As adults, it should be on us to lead by example.
— Jenna Hunsinger

ADDISON COUNTY — When Gov. Phil Scott last week announced that all state COVID-19 guidelines would be lifted since Vermont has vaccinated 80% of its eligible population, the recommendation that kids under 12 years old continue to wear masks indoors remained.

What to do with that recommendation is entirely up to parents and guardians, and it isn’t necessarily an easy decision.

Lauren Young, co-owner of Rainbow Pediatrics and a mother of two, said she had mixed feelings in response to Scott’s announcement.

“It does feel a bit challenging with kids still being unvaccinated,” she said.

Young counsels all unvaccinated individuals to continue to follow masking and social distancing procedures.

A Family Nurse Practitioner for 11 years, Young said she has seen youngsters be “incredibly resilient” through the pandemic. With her own children, who are almost 8 and 9 years old, Young said the experience ranged from big disappointment over the news that they couldn’t have play dates to “getting off the school bus and still wearing their masks in the house for 45 minutes because it had become such a habit.” She said it is more challenging to explain to her children that they still need to wear masks, while she herself does not.

“But they understand,” Young said.

Tricia Allen, Youth Services Librarian at Ilsley Public Library, agreed that there’s no black-and-white answer to when and how kids should wear masks. The youth desk staff at the Middlebury library will continue to wear masks as an example to the kids coming in, Allen said. As the parent of three she will use a similar tactic with her own 12-, 10- and 8-year-olds.

“My husband and I plan to continue masking indoors when we’re with our kids,” she said.

Allen isn’t especially worried though, adding that her kids aren’t at all fazed by being asked to continue wearing masks and are simply thrilled to get to play outside without them.

While Allen hopes that parents talk with their children and decide what’s best for their family case by case, others feel more at the mercy of the community’s decisions.

Corey Hendrickson — who said he felt “guardedly optimistic” about the governor’s announcement — and his 7-year-old daughter showed up at Mary Johnson summer camp Monday morning wearing masks.

“But we quickly realized nobody else was wearing them,” Hendrickson said, so he gave his daughter the option: “She immediately took it off, no surprise there.”

The Middlebury resident fervently hopes parents will treat each other with respect, no matter what choices they make about their kids wearing masks.

But for Jenna Hunsinger, the Ripton mother of a seven-month-old baby, lifting COVID restrictions is terrifying.

“As vaccination rates have been increasing and case levels declining, we’ve finally been feeling a little more comfortable out in public with our baby around masked individuals, however that isn’t necessarily the case anymore,” Hunsinger said. “I don’t think it’s reasonable to lift mask mandates for adults yet still expect young children to wear them. As adults, it should be on us to lead by example,” she added.

Young wants to be honest about the health implications.

“Masks actually work,” she said.

A surprising silver lining of all the safety protocols is that in general significantly fewer children got sick this past year.

“The number of kids who were ill was pretty much none,” Young said, adding that she can count on her two hands the prescriptions she’s written for ear infections in the past 15 months — a novel experience. “It’s been an amazing benefit for public health in general, I hope we don’t forget moving forward.”

In the meantime, Young said she feels like folks are “figuring out an in-between.”

As we all readjust, Hunsinger said it’s worth remembering, “Even though (COVID-19) cases are declining and the illness severity for children tends to be minimal, our youngest and most vulnerable loved ones aren’t out of the woods yet.”

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