Should kids wear masks in playgrounds? PA health experts advise on summer activities

James McGinnis
Bucks County Courier Times

Unvaccinated children should be wearing masks, but letting them run around in playgrounds with other kids "is probably not the worst thing you could do as a parent." 

That was the consensus Tuesday as health experts from Philadelphia and the state outlined best practices for the return to summer activities. 

"You do want to have a mask outside in playgrounds," said Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, acting Philadelphia health commissioner. But she added, it's understandable that parents are letting kids frolic mask-free in playgrounds across the U.S.

Parents "have to make their own judgment," said Meg Snead, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.

"We shifting to recommendations," Snead said, adding that she believed it was relatively low risk for unvaccinated children to be in restaurants. 

Adults should get vaccinated to protect the children, said Dr. Denise Johnson, acting physician general of Pennsylvania. "You are protecting the children who can cannot get vaccinated."

Health experts gathered at Philadelphia's Please Touch Museum, a learning center that encourages kids to learn through play. Such hands-on experiences came to a halt during the pandemic.

Trish Wellenbach, president and CEO of the Please Touch Museum, speaks on COVID-19 and the return to summer activities

Shuttered for 56 weeks, the museum for young children has reopened with extensive health and safety measures, including what to do "if your child places an exhibit prop in their mouth." Hand sanitizer is everywhere, visits are by appointment only to control crowds, and everyone ages 2 and older must wear masks. 

"Children are social animals," said Trish Wellenbach, president and CEO of the Please Touch Museum. "They are incredibly curious.

"The little girl who was the first child back in this museum after 56 weeks came with her grandparents," Wellenbach said. "We opened the museum at 9 a.m. They were outside at 8:10 a.m." 

A sign inside the Please Touch Museum asks young children to play six feet apart.

The CDC currently recommends everyone 12 years and older get a COVID-19 vaccination. Kids make up about 13% of all COVID-19 cases, estimates the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association.

Yet the virus affects children differently, research shows. Scientists don't know why.

At the height of the pandemic in January, the rate of death remained low among children, according to the CDC. The government reported 0.02 deaths per 100,000 Americans ages 13 and younger. By comparison, the rate was 17 per 100,000 Americans between the ages 65 and 79. 

Exposed to more viruses, the immune systems of kids may be "primed to provide them with some protection against COVID-19," notes the Mayo Clinic. "The answer isn't clear yet." 

Contact reporter James McGinnis at jmcginnis@couriertimes.com