As soon as I hit my two-week post-vaccination milestone, I went out to dinner. It was my first time loitering in a public dining establishment in more than 15 months—and it was freaking glorious. I ordered appetizers. I drank wine. I lingered over forkfuls of food as the sun slunk below the horizon. It was a semblance of normalcy that I didn’t know I needed until, suddenly, I felt like weeping into my bowl of cioppino. All over being able to expose the lower half of my face to complete strangers.
And then I headed home...where reality quickly doused my unmasked dreams. While Washington has finally reopened, for us guardians of small unvaccinated humans (in my case, a preschooler and a baby), the pandemic is very much still crawling along.
According to current counts, just over 70 percent of the 12-and-up set in King County has received both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. But 0 percent—that’s zip, zilch, nada, goose egg—of children 11 and younger are eligible. That leaves families like mine in a weird “do we, don’t we” limbo this summer.
Should we travel—gasp—on an airplane? Should we go out to eat as a family? Should we RSVP to birthday parties of mere acquaintances once more?
“The risk of Covid-19 and severe infections and complications in children is not zero,” explains Dr. Elizabeth Meade, medical director of pediatric quality and safety at Swedish Medical Center and former president of the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “We all need a little return to normalcy, but for kids or anyone who can’t get the vaccine, we still have to act accordingly and follow all those preventive strategies.”
In by-the-book terms, that means continued physical distancing and mask wearing for your kids—and, most likely, yourself. Because if you can imagine a four-year-old being like “hey, that’s cool” about wearing a mask in public while you go around flaunting your chin, well, you’ve never met a four-year-old. Or you have some sort of sick fondness for eardrum-bursting tantrums.
It’s not all scream-inducing news for my fellow parents, though. Nancy Jecker, a bioethics professor at University of Washington School of Medicine, muses in a recent op-ed that “keeping children safe is complicated” and argues that protecting kids’ social development and mental health is just as important as shielding them from the virus. Meade concurs: “While we can talk about strategies to mitigate risk, kids still need to see grandparents, families still need to go on vacation.”
What both Meade and Jecker suggest is a more nuanced approach to decision-making than the firm line that government entities like, say, the Washington State Department of Health might hold. “If you want to take a trip to visit grandparents for the first time in a year and a half, that’s a different risk calculation than going on a vacation to a fun place like Disneyland, for example,” Meade says.
That’s not to say that families who decide to pay a visit to that mouse down in California are doing it all wrong either. It’s that there’s a sliding scale for what we should consider the right choice based on our family’s antibody status and our summer plans.
So maybe you and your kids keep on wearing masks at PCC and your trusty SPL branch, but maybe you also say yes to summer camps, that vacation to visit family, and playdates too. “It’s important to give ourselves some grace in how we reengage with the world,” Meade notes. And when the youngest among us finally gets their shot at the vaccine, then it’s really time to party.