Two surgical masks
Illustration: PGN

What you need to know

  • Continue to wear a mask if you are more vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19 or if you don’t feel comfortable without one yet. 
  • Weigh the pros and cons of having kids wear masks in schools.
  • Use the CDC’s COVID-19 by County tool to monitor your community’s COVID-19 risk.

Since the Omicron surge calmed, COVID-19 mask and vaccination mandates have largely disappeared across the nation. All states have lifted their indoor statewide mask mandates, and many have rolled back vaccination requirements for restaurants, gyms, and other businesses. Masks are also no longer required on airplanes, Ubers, or Lyfts. 

For many Americans, the rollback of restrictions calls for a sigh of relief. But for others, especially those who are more vulnerable or parents of young kids, the recent developments are a cause for anxiety. Here are answers to some questions you may have about keeping yourself and your loved ones safe.

Is it too early to abandon COVID-19 mandates?

At the individual level, this answer varies depending on each person’s risk levels when it comes to COVID-19. If you are more vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19, or if you don’t feel comfortable without a mask yet, you should continue to wear one. Do what you need to do to feel safe and stay healthy.

The U.S. has developed a relatively high level of immunity against the virus, both through vaccination and through prior infection. This means that, if case and hospitalization rates are low, it is safe for communities to relax pandemic restrictions. The CDC updates its county-level risk assessments weekly and makes recommendations for preventative measures accordingly.

How can I continue to stay safe as COVID-19 mandates disappear?

Monitor your community’s COVID-19 risk and continue to use the tools that work, including vaccines, masks, and ventilation. Remember, even if there is no mask requirement, you can still wear a mask. You should also wear a mask if you are more vulnerable, if you live with someone who is at high risk, or if it makes you feel more comfortable. This is especially true if you are traveling or attending a public indoor gathering. If you’ve been exposed or have symptoms, getting tested is another way to ensure you aren’t contributing to the virus’s spread.

Should my kid still wear a mask at school?

There is no clear answer to this question. It is largely up to parents to make their own assessments after understanding all of the benefits and risks. Kids under 5 are still not eligible to get a vaccine and vaccinated kids ages 5 to 11 may be insufficiently protected against infection. This means a large number of young students remain unprotected as cities lift school mask mandates. 

While kids are at a much lower risk of severe illness and hospitalization from COVID-19, it is still a risk. Children can develop long COVID symptoms and the potentially fatal multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) as a result of infection.

Masks can help protect kids from infection if they are high-quality and well-fitting. But studies have also shown that they can inhibit educational development and social interaction. As long as federal, state, or local guidelines are not recommending masks in schools, parents should consult their kids’ pediatricians and trust their own judgment for what they feel is best for their children.