NIH director backs away from suggestion that parents wear masks at home to protect kids

COVID-19's delta variant is capable of causing serious illness in kids, he said

The head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Tuesday afternoon tried to walk back his comments from earlier in the day suggesting that parents wear masks at home to protect unvaccinated children.

Dr. Francis Collins said "it’s clear" that the delta variant was capable of causing serious illness in kids while addressing whether young children should avoid indoor situations. 

He noted that while rare, there are many examples of young people being sickened by the virus and cited new recommendations for kids under 12 to avoid being in places where they might get infected and recommendations for universal masking at schools, and even for adults at home. 

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"Parents of unvaccinated kids should be thoughtful about this and the recommendation is to wear masks there as well," Collins said, while appearing on CNN. "I know that’s uncomfortable, I know it seems weird, but it is the best way to protect your kids."

However, he tweeted later Tuesday that he "garbled" his own message: "Vaccinated parents who live in communities with high COVID transmission rates should mask when out in public indoor settings to minimize risks to their unvaccinated kids. No need to mask at home."

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As of July 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that anyone over age 2 regardless of vaccination status wear masks in public indoor settings. In guidance updated on July 16, the agency recommended that the best way to protect children too young to be vaccinated was for adult relatives to get themselves vaccinated, and to make sure the child wears a mask in public settings. 

"If your child is younger than 2 years or cannot wear a mask, limit visits with people who are not vaccinated or whose vaccination status is unknown and keep distance between your child and other people in public," the agency advised. 

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However, the agency does not call for masks to be worn at home unless a person is sick.