CDC relaxes mask guidance for unvaccinated youth campers when outside

A child gets a COVID-19 vaccine.
Alex Bugarin, 13, gets his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at San Pedro Senior High school on Monday.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday significantly eased mask recommendations for youth campers in outdoor settings, saying all campers — even the unvaccinated — don’t need to wear masks outdoors unless community transmission of the virus is problematic.

The CDC still “strongly encouraged” mask use indoors for anyone who is not fully vaccinated, while fully vaccinated campers don’t need to wear masks in any setting, according to the guidance.

The CDC’s guidance is only a recommendation; state and local governments have the final say on mask rules, which can be more restrictive than the CDC’s guidance.

The California Department of Public Health’s most recent guidance for overnight camps, issued May 13, said that if all camp staff and attendees are fully vaccinated, they may operate without COVID-19 public health restrictions.


But if any camp staff and attendees have yet to be fully vaccinated, California requires everyone to wear a mask outdoors if they can’t distance themselves from others, and everyone must wear a mask indoors, regardless of physical distancing.

In much of the state, the holiday will be the first in a long time that looks close to pre-pandemic normal.

May 28, 2021

Those rules are in effect until June 15, when California’s mask rules will relax, and fully vaccinated people will no longer need to wear face covering in most settings, except on public transportation and at transit hubs and at large events with 5,000 or more people indoors and 10,000 or more outside.

The California Department of Public Health on Friday said there are no plans currently to relax the existing mask guidance until June 15.

“The CDC explicitly gave states, localities and businesses the option to go at their own pace, and that’s what we are doing,” the department said in a statement. “California is the largest, most complex state in the nation, and it’s critical that we get this right — so that’s what we are going to do. Californians have had plenty of time to digest that we are reopening on June 15, and changing mask requirements at that time makes sense.”

State officials have suggested that mask guidance will continue to change as vaccination rates increase.


L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer on Thursday also said she expected mask guidance to change over time.

“There’s new information, constantly emerging information, about the difference between outdoors and indoors for children,” Ferrer said. “And where, in fact, there may be a much less risk in terms of outdoor activities, there may be an opportunity to lift some of the masking guidance.”

The guidance can safely change “with a lot of people vaccinated” because that results in “much less community transmission,” Ferrer said.

The guidance allows camps to operate if all participants are fully vaccinated and outlines steps to protect those who are not fully vaccinated.

May 14, 2021

High vaccination rates “gets us to places where case rates are so low that you don’t have to worry as much about transmission in places where transmission is not as likely in the first place — which would be an outdoor setting when compared to an indoor setting,” Ferrer said.

Compared with adults, the noses of younger children have far fewer ACE2 receptors — proteins on the surface of cells to which the coronavirus adheres. The lack of ACE2 receptors generally explains why children are less likely to get or transmit the coronavirus to the same degree as adults.

Increasing evidence about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and California’s low case rates convince experts it’s safe to stop wearing masks.

May 27, 2021

The new CDC guidance issued Friday said camp programs should be supportive of those who choose to still wear a mask.

And the CDC suggested that if community transmission of the coronavirus is “substantial” or “high,” that people who are not fully vaccinated are encouraged to wear masks in “crowded outdoor settings during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated.”

Most of California’s counties are categorized as having “moderate” or “low” coronavirus transmission; a handful of counties in the San Joaquin Valley, the Sierra Nevada and the rural northern section of the state are categorized as still having “substantial” or “high” transmission.

The CDC said camps may still decide to require masks for everyone — vaccinated or not — “when it is difficult to tell who has been vaccinated or to set an example for not fully vaccinated campers.”

“Particularly in areas of substantial to high transmission, camps may consider requiring mask use indoors by all people present including vaccinated campers, staff, and other people such as visitors,” the CDC said.

Among other CDC guidance:

• Avoid crowded and/or poorly ventilated indoor activities (for example, engaging in outdoor activities whenever possible and increasing ventilation for indoor activities).
• Masks should not be worn when doing outdoor activities that could get masks wet, like using boats and watercraft or swimming at the beach or pool.
• Because masks should not be worn in pools, campers should maintain physical distance and camps should limit the number of people in the pool at one time. A wet mask can make it difficult to breathe and might not work as intended.
• Masks should not be worn when sleeping.