Emily Oster

11 min Read Emily Oster

Emily Oster

The New Mask Guidelines from CDC… and Kids

Emily Oster

11 min Read

Last week, the CDC released new guidance on masks.

The basic idea of the guidance is to help people think about what the safety of various activities, both inside and outside, depending on their vaccine status. The biggest take-away for most people was the idea that it isn’t necessary for fully vaccinated people to mask outside. A number of locations (for example: where I live in Rhode Island) have relaxed outdoor mask mandates as a result.

Along with this, the CDC made a push for vaccines: get vaccinated! Move to the right side of the graphic! Look at all the great stuff you can do! But, among some parents, there was a palpable sense of frustration. My kids cannot be vaccinated yet! Do I have to wait forever for anything?

This was exemplified for me by Savannah Guthrie interviewing Dr. Fauci. Their exchange is confusing — she’s confused, I think, and he doesn’t totally explain himself — but I feel her frustration coming through the screen. For many parents, I sense it feels like we’ve spent over a year holding our kids back even though the risks to them are small, so we can protect others. And now somehow even though they’re low risk, we have to hold them back even more.

Our older parents are chillaxing with their friends on vacation in Florida drinking fruity cocktails at the swim up bar and we’re still supposed to make our three year olds wear masks at the playground. THIS FEELS VERY UNFAIR.

Breathe.

I wanted to try to cut through a little of the chaos today. First: What does this CDC thing mean, really, for kids? Second: Why don’t they explicitly call out kids separately, given that we know they are low risk for illness? Third: Is it just going to be like this until they get a vaccine? And when is that anyway?

Before getting into this: I want to acknowledge that these CDC guidelines are just that — guidelines. They aren’t rules, and individual states and municipalities have their own statements. Whenever I write about this, I hear from people who live in areas — say, Texas or Florida or North Dakota — with many fewer mask restrictions and a looser set of guidelines in general. They are often very confused about why this is such a discussion. The explanations for this split are too lengthy for this newsletter, so let’s just leave it there.

What Does This Mean?

As Dr. Facui confusingly states in the interview, kids are unvaccinated and, therefore, the “unvaccinated” guidelines above apply to them. What this means, though, is that if you’re out walking around with your kids, with just your household, it is fine for them to be unmasked. In addition, if you have a gathering of fully vaccinated people and one household worth of unvaccinated kids are there, they can be unmasked.

The CDC guidelines, if taken to the letter, also suggest both vaccinated and unvaccinated people should be masking for basically any indoor activities other than small gatherings (like with family) with only one unvaccinated household.

Where masking in kids is still recommended are places like playgrounds or playdates, either indoor or outdoor. This is where I think people have come up against the inequities. If I meet a friend and their kids at a playground, in my house or in my backyard and the adults are fully vaccinated, the guidelines say adults unmasked and kids masked. This feels odd to a lot of people, but that’s what the CDC says.

Why Aren’t Kids Separated Out?

Why not discuss kids separately, especially little kids, since we know their illness risks are low? This is a question not just for this particular set of mandates, but one that comes up in general. The CDC and other public health bodies have been reluctant to talk about more freedoms for younger groups.

The reason for this lies in the goal of this messaging.

When they send health messages, public health officials have two goals. One is to help people protect themselves. The other is to protect the broader health of the public. Sometimes, the first part is the really key goal — when we give diet advice, it’s mostly about how to be healthy for yourself. And for that part of the advice, it really makes sense to distinguish between risk levels. But when it comes to COVID-19, public health messaging at this point is still very focused on lowering spread; we are still seeing around 50,000 infections per day.

Kids are lower risk for COVID infection in general, but the risk differences are much less extreme than for serious illness. According to the CDC, kids 5 to 17 are only slightly less likely to have COVID at all relative to adults, even as they are much, much less likely to be seriously ill or die.

The differences in guidance for vaccinated and unvaccinated people are really focused on their risk of spreading to others. And from this standpoint, kids are similar to adults and it doesn’t make sense to separate them out. (Some people have asked how to interpret some of the statements coming out of Michigan that younger people are more important in driving spread in the last wave. My read is this likely reflects the fact that they are a relatively larger share of cases, since older people are now vaccinated).

So, is it going to be like this forever until kids get vaccinated?

I do not have a crystal ball but, I think, no. Here’s the thing: these guidelines are specific to this moment in time when we are still seeing 50,000 cases a day. As these numbers go down — as we vaccinate more people and more people move from partial to full vaccination — this will make it possible to extend more flexibility to everyone. The situation can feel hard to predict, since vaccine hesitancy is real, but as we get to 50 or 60% of the population vaccinated, which I think is feasible, case rates will continue to drop.

Herd immunity is a bit of a red herring, neither necessary nor sufficient, but the fact is that more vaccines = less spread = (ultimately) more ways to be safe even for unvaccinated people. The concern with extensive interactions among unvaccinated people is that someone will bring the virus, and others will be infected. But as case rates lower and more high-risk people are vaccinated, it both becomes less likely that anyone shows up with the virus, and less problematic if they do.

CDC guidelines aren’t set in stone; they change. As case rates decline, it will be reasonable for them to relax more. And it may start being reasonable for them to focus messaging more on individual choices and to distinguish among unvaccinated people by risk level. As David Leonhardt has helpfully pointed out, there will be more than one reasonable way to behave with your children once all adults have had the option to be vaccinated.

I don’t know when any of this will happen, but when I get frustrated and impatient, I try to remember that things look very different right now than a month or two months ago. If we keep pushing to vaccinate more, they can look even more different in a month.

What about camp? Are we going to be masking at camp? And school next year? ARGH. Why?

I get a lot of mask questions about camp and school. CDC camp guidelines are angering a lot of people, likely due to the somewhat extreme approach to masking and other mitigation. Last summer, my kids went to tennis camp and there was no masking except at drop off and pickup (there were no COVID cases). The current guidelines are considerably more stringent than this.

This seems to many people kind of backward, since at this point all the counselors will be vaccinated, case rates are likely to be a lot lower, kids are low risk and outdoor activities are very safe. David Zweig has a skeptical piece on this which I agree with. Yesterday, Dr. Fauci expressed some skepticism and suggested updates might come. I think that would be appropriate.

As for schools… the fall is hard to predict. We do have some opportunity to learn about the value of masks in these situations from — for example — the experience of schools in this latter part of the spring in states which relaxed their masking rules (e.g. Texas). Whether data like this will matter to these decisions, I’m not sure.

In some ways, I find this frustrating and I worry about not seeing a way out. Are we going to make kindergarteners wear masks at school until no one has COVID anywhere? I would support this if we thought it mattered a lot for transmission, but it’s not clear it does especially when adults are vaccinated. I think we are also missing some of the significant costs for students with disabilities, who may struggle more with these restrictions in various way.

Having said this: if the tradeoff in the fall is masks or no school, my strong sense is that masks are better than no school. Many kids have worn masks all year without issue. As economists say: it’s not the first best, but it’s maybe the second best. With no in person school as a distant third.

I do want to name here that I’d like to see more clarity from the CDC about younger kids. It’s hard to get a 2 year old to wear a mask and I’m not sure what evidence we’d point to to suggest that it matters, especially when case rates are low.

When will kids be vaccinated anyway?

The FDA is reportedly set to extend the Emergency Use Authorization for the Pfizer vaccine to adolescents (12-15) next week. Realistically, this means in a couple of weeks we will start seeing that group vaccinated.

Pfizer has said they’ll apply for an EUA for kids 2 to 11 in September. Moderna is in a similar space. So in principle we could have vaccines for this group in the late fall. This is a bit earlier than the January timeline that I’d seen predicted.

So, this is when your child could be vaccinated. But will you? People sometimes ask me: will you get your kids vaccinated? I will, as soon as they can. If we had access, I would likely have enrolled them in a trial.

However: I am expecting more vaccine anxiety and hesitancy around kids than there has been around adults, especially kids in the younger age groups. For a low risk 8 year old (for example) the individual benefit of the vaccine is low. Yes, kids can get severe COVID, so the vaccine benefit is not zero. But it’s much, much smaller than for (say) their 75 year old grandparent. The most significant benefits to childhood vaccines are to lowering spread to other people — these benefits are real! But, overall, the risk-benefit calculation is different in kids than older people.

This comment, in Lancet Infectious Disease, is a more academic take on this questions. My bottom line is that I think it will be an uphill slog to getting high vaccine rates in kids, especially those under 12, until schools require them. And many schools in many places will not.

Final Thoughts

It is an amazing triumph of science that the COVID-19 vaccines are so effective. What it means — and this is reflected in the CDC guidelines and general rhetoric — is that people who are vaccinated can start to get back to normal. Like real normal. And a big part of that is not thinking through every f*ing activity to decide it if fits in today’s “risk budget” or whatever we are calling it. Want an eyebrow wax? Just get it. Forgot strawberries at Whole Foods? Just go back.

I think many parents are experiencing, basically, decision-fatigue-induced-vaccine-jealousy. I just want to be able to make simple decisions about playdates and vacations and camp and extracurriculars without a calculator. (Yes, I like my calculator, but I wish I didn’t have to use it.) It seems like we are facing at least a few more months of these complicated decisions and it is frustrating and tiring.

I have no real solution other than to name the feeling, to note that it will get easier, and to celebrate the small changes. Example: none of us will mask when we are hiking as a family this weekend and we will retire the front-of-line-there-is-someone-coming-mask-up-hand-signal my husband introduced a year ago. It’s a small thing, but it’s something.

Covid-19 rapid antigen tests arranged in a pattern on a yellow background.

Feb 20 2023

12 min read

COVID-19: Where to Go from Here

A long-term view of the virus

Emily Oster
Covid-19 rapid antigen tests arranged in a pattern on a yellow background.

Oct 20 2022

9 min read

Should You Get the Bivalent Booster?

The latest on the risks and benefits of COVID vaccines boosters for older adults, pregnant people, and kids

Emily Oster
A line graph with pink, yellow, and blue dots representing life's ups and downs.

Aug 16 2022

3 min read

Wins, Woes, and Doing It Again

We have our first story from a dad! And it’s a good one. 10/10 —Girl Dad with Confidence Growing by Read more

Emily Oster
Covid-19 rapid antigen tests arranged in a pattern on a yellow background.

Aug 15 2022

8 min read

Updated CDC Guidelines for School and Child Care

NO QUARANTINES!!!

Emily Oster

Instagram

left right
Milestones. We celebrate them in pregnancy, in parenting, and they’re a fun thing to celebrate at work too. Just a couple years ago I couldn’t have foreseen what this community would grow into. Today, there are over 400,000 of you here—asking questions, making others feel seen wherever they may be in their journey, and sharing information that supports data > panic. 

It has been a busy summer for the team at ParentData. I’d love to take a moment here to celebrate the 400k milestone. As I’ve said before, it’s more important than ever to put good data in the hands of parents. 

Share this post with a friend who could use a little more data, and a little less parenting overwhelm. 

📷 Me and my oldest, collaborating on “Expecting Better”

Milestones. We celebrate them in pregnancy, in parenting, and they’re a fun thing to celebrate at work too. Just a couple years ago I couldn’t have foreseen what this community would grow into. Today, there are over 400,000 of you here—asking questions, making others feel seen wherever they may be in their journey, and sharing information that supports data > panic.

It has been a busy summer for the team at ParentData. I’d love to take a moment here to celebrate the 400k milestone. As I’ve said before, it’s more important than ever to put good data in the hands of parents.

Share this post with a friend who could use a little more data, and a little less parenting overwhelm.

📷 Me and my oldest, collaborating on “Expecting Better”
...

I spend a lot of time talking people down after they read the latest panic headline. In most cases, these articles create an unnecessary amount of stress around pregnancy and parenting. This is my pro tip for understanding whether the risk presented is something you should really be worrying about.

Comment “link” for an article with other tools to help you navigate risk and uncertainty.

#emilyoster #parentdata #riskmanagement #parentstruggles #parentingstruggles

I spend a lot of time talking people down after they read the latest panic headline. In most cases, these articles create an unnecessary amount of stress around pregnancy and parenting. This is my pro tip for understanding whether the risk presented is something you should really be worrying about.

Comment “link” for an article with other tools to help you navigate risk and uncertainty.

#emilyoster #parentdata #riskmanagement #parentstruggles #parentingstruggles
...

Here’s why I think you don’t have to throw away your baby bottles.

Here’s why I think you don’t have to throw away your baby bottles. ...

Drop your toddlers favorite thing right now in the comments—then grab some popcorn.

Original thread source: Reddit @croc_docs

Drop your toddlers favorite thing right now in the comments—then grab some popcorn.

Original thread source: Reddit @croc_docs
...

Just keep wiping.

Just keep wiping. ...

Dr. Gillian Goddard sums up what she learned from the Hot Flash  S e x  Survey! Here are some key data takeaways:

🌶️ Among respondents, the most common s e x u a l frequency was 1 to 2 times per month, followed closely by 1 to 2 times per week
🌶️ 37% have found their sweet spot and are happy with the frequency of s e x they are having
🌶️ About 64% of respondents were very or somewhat satisfied with the quality of the s e x they are having

Do any of these findings surprise you? Let us know in the comments!

#hotflash #intimacy #midlifepleasure #parentdata #relationships

Dr. Gillian Goddard sums up what she learned from the Hot Flash S e x Survey! Here are some key data takeaways:

🌶️ Among respondents, the most common s e x u a l frequency was 1 to 2 times per month, followed closely by 1 to 2 times per week
🌶️ 37% have found their sweet spot and are happy with the frequency of s e x they are having
🌶️ About 64% of respondents were very or somewhat satisfied with the quality of the s e x they are having

Do any of these findings surprise you? Let us know in the comments!

#hotflash #intimacy #midlifepleasure #parentdata #relationships
...

Should your kid be in a car seat on the plane? The AAP recommends that you put kids under 40 pounds into a car seat on airplanes. However, airlines don’t require car seats.

Here’s what we know from a data standpoint:
✈️ The risk of injury to a child on a plane without a carseat is very small (about 1 in 250,000)
✈️ A JAMA Pediatrics paper estimates about 0.4 child air crash deaths per year might be prevented in the U.S. with car seats 
✈️ Cars are far more dangerous than airplanes! The same JAMA paper suggests that if 5% to 10% of families switched to driving, then we would expect more total deaths as a result of this policy. 

If you want to buy a seat for your lap infant, or bring a car seat for an older child, by all means do so! But the additional protection based on the numbers is extremely small.

#parentdata #emilyoster #flyingwithkids #flyingwithbaby #carseats #carseatsafety

Should your kid be in a car seat on the plane? The AAP recommends that you put kids under 40 pounds into a car seat on airplanes. However, airlines don’t require car seats.

Here’s what we know from a data standpoint:
✈️ The risk of injury to a child on a plane without a carseat is very small (about 1 in 250,000)
✈️ A JAMA Pediatrics paper estimates about 0.4 child air crash deaths per year might be prevented in the U.S. with car seats
✈️ Cars are far more dangerous than airplanes! The same JAMA paper suggests that if 5% to 10% of families switched to driving, then we would expect more total deaths as a result of this policy.

If you want to buy a seat for your lap infant, or bring a car seat for an older child, by all means do so! But the additional protection based on the numbers is extremely small.

#parentdata #emilyoster #flyingwithkids #flyingwithbaby #carseats #carseatsafety
...

SLEEP DATA 💤 PART 2: Let’s talk about naps. Comment “Link” for an article on what we learned about daytime sleep!

The first three months of life are a chaotic combination of irregular napping, many naps, and a few brave or lucky souls who appear to have already arrived at a two-to-three nap schedule. Over the next few months, the naps consolidate to three and then to two. By the 10-to-12-month period, a very large share of kids are napping a consistent two naps per day. Over the period between 12 and 18 months, this shifts toward one nap. And then sometime in the range of 3 to 5 years, naps are dropped. What I think is perhaps most useful about this graph is it gives a lot of color to the average napping ages that we often hear. 

Note: Survey data came from the ParentData audience and users of the Nanit sleep monitor system. Both audiences skew higher-education and higher-income than the average, and mostly have younger children. The final sample is 14,919 children. For more insights on our respondents, read the full article.

SLEEP DATA 💤 PART 2: Let’s talk about naps. Comment “Link” for an article on what we learned about daytime sleep!

The first three months of life are a chaotic combination of irregular napping, many naps, and a few brave or lucky souls who appear to have already arrived at a two-to-three nap schedule. Over the next few months, the naps consolidate to three and then to two. By the 10-to-12-month period, a very large share of kids are napping a consistent two naps per day. Over the period between 12 and 18 months, this shifts toward one nap. And then sometime in the range of 3 to 5 years, naps are dropped. What I think is perhaps most useful about this graph is it gives a lot of color to the average napping ages that we often hear.

Note: Survey data came from the ParentData audience and users of the Nanit sleep monitor system. Both audiences skew higher-education and higher-income than the average, and mostly have younger children. The final sample is 14,919 children. For more insights on our respondents, read the full article.
...

Happy Father’s Day to the Fathers and Father figures in our ParentData community! 

Tag a Dad who this holiday may be tricky for. We’re sending you love. 💛

Happy Father’s Day to the Fathers and Father figures in our ParentData community!

Tag a Dad who this holiday may be tricky for. We’re sending you love. 💛
...

“Whilst googling things like ‘new dad sad’ and ‘why am I crying new dad,’ I came across an article written by a doctor who had trouble connecting with his second child. I read the symptoms and felt an odd sense of relief.” Today we’re bringing back an essay by Kevin Maguire of @newfatherhood about his experience with paternal postpartum depression. We need to demystify these issues in order to change things for the better. Comment “Link” for a DM to read his full essay.

#parentdata #postpartum #postpartumdepression #paternalmentalhealth #newparents #emilyoster

“Whilst googling things like ‘new dad sad’ and ‘why am I crying new dad,’ I came across an article written by a doctor who had trouble connecting with his second child. I read the symptoms and felt an odd sense of relief.” Today we’re bringing back an essay by Kevin Maguire of @newfatherhood about his experience with paternal postpartum depression. We need to demystify these issues in order to change things for the better. Comment “Link” for a DM to read his full essay.

#parentdata #postpartum #postpartumdepression #paternalmentalhealth #newparents #emilyoster
...

What does the data say about children who look more like one parent? Do they also inherit more character traits and mannerisms from that parent? Let’s talk about it 🔎

#emilyoster #parentdata #parentingcommunity #lookslikedaddy #lookslikemommy

What does the data say about children who look more like one parent? Do they also inherit more character traits and mannerisms from that parent? Let’s talk about it 🔎

#emilyoster #parentdata #parentingcommunity #lookslikedaddy #lookslikemommy
...

SLEEP DATA 💤 We asked you all about your kids’ sleep—and got nearly 15,000 survey responses to better understand kids’ sleep patterns. Comment “Link” for an article that breaks down our findings!

This graph shows sleeping location by age. You’ll notice that for the first three months, most kids are in their own sleeping location in a parent’s room. Then, over the first year, this switches toward their own room. As kids age, sharing a room with a sibling becomes more common. 

Head to the newsletter for more and stay tuned for part two next week on naps! 🌙

#parentdata #emilyoster #childsleep #babysleep #parentingcommunity

SLEEP DATA 💤 We asked you all about your kids’ sleep—and got nearly 15,000 survey responses to better understand kids’ sleep patterns. Comment “Link” for an article that breaks down our findings!

This graph shows sleeping location by age. You’ll notice that for the first three months, most kids are in their own sleeping location in a parent’s room. Then, over the first year, this switches toward their own room. As kids age, sharing a room with a sibling becomes more common.

Head to the newsletter for more and stay tuned for part two next week on naps! 🌙

#parentdata #emilyoster #childsleep #babysleep #parentingcommunity
...

Weekends are good for extra cups of ☕️ and listening to podcasts. I asked our team how they pod—most people said on walks or during chores. What about you?

Comment “Link” to subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster, joined by some excellent guests.

#parentdata #parentdatapodcast #parentingpodcast #parentingtips #emilyoster

Weekends are good for extra cups of ☕️ and listening to podcasts. I asked our team how they pod—most people said on walks or during chores. What about you?

Comment “Link” to subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster, joined by some excellent guests.

#parentdata #parentdatapodcast #parentingpodcast #parentingtips #emilyoster
...

Humility. That’s why. That’s the whole reason.

#emilyoster #secondbaby #parentingjokes #parentinghumor

Humility. That’s why. That’s the whole reason.

#emilyoster #secondbaby #parentingjokes #parentinghumor
...

Bug season is upon us. Besides annoyance, this can bring up safety concerns, particularly with ticks. They are carriers of diseases, most notably Lyme disease. So what’s the best course of action?

Prevention is key! I suggest:
⭐ Regular tick checks
⭐ Using bug sprays with DEET 
⭐ Wearing long sleeves and pants in the woods

Some parents worry about DEET, but repellants with up to 30% DEET are recommended by both the CDC and AAP. The data says you’re in the clear, so go for it. Enjoy your summer!

#parentdata #emilyoster #tickseason #bugbites #bugspray

Bug season is upon us. Besides annoyance, this can bring up safety concerns, particularly with ticks. They are carriers of diseases, most notably Lyme disease. So what’s the best course of action?

Prevention is key! I suggest:
⭐ Regular tick checks
⭐ Using bug sprays with DEET
⭐ Wearing long sleeves and pants in the woods

Some parents worry about DEET, but repellants with up to 30% DEET are recommended by both the CDC and AAP. The data says you’re in the clear, so go for it. Enjoy your summer!

#parentdata #emilyoster #tickseason #bugbites #bugspray
...