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Dr. Anthony Fauci Talks with TIME for Kids

TFK Kid Reporter Afton Campbell speaks to the nation's top infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, over Zoom. TIME

Kids 12 and older are now able to get the COVID-19 vaccine. What does this mean for summer plans? What does it mean for returning to school in the fall? Should we continue to wear masks? 

As the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci is the nation’s top infectious-disease expert. He also serves as the chief medical advisor to the president of the United States. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Fauci. I had questions about how to stay safe this summer and going back to school in person this fall. Dr. Fauci helped me understand what I can do safely.

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TFK Kid Reporter Afton Campbell: 

Let’s jump right into our questions. 

Kids 12 and over can now get vaccinated. Can they safely attend overnight camp this summer? And can they safely sleep in a tent or cabin with someone who is not vaccinated? 

Dr. Anthony Fauci: 

You know, from the individual standpoint of your safety, the fact that you’re vaccinated and fully vaccinated means the likelihood of you getting infected is extraordinarily low. So you could safely do that. 

But one of the things that could be confusing is that the CDC is trying to get guidelines for camps to keep everyone safe. But as an individual yourself, could you feel comfortable both indoors and outdoors while you’re vaccinated? The answer is yes. 

Afton: 

That’s such a relief to hear. 

Many school districts have announced they won’t have a distance-learning option for the fall. If not all kids are able to be vaccinated by then, how can they stay safe and protect their families from getting sick? 

Dr. Fauci: 

It’s going to depend very much, Afton, on what the level of infection in the community is. That’s always a factor that influences the CDC guidelines. So if, in fact, there’s a degree of infection dynamic in the community, then kids who are not vaccinated, for one reason or another, might prompt the CDC to say, “Yes, we will go to school, everyone will be in person, no more virtual, it will be in-person class—but you’ll have to wear a mask.

But for you, when you go back to school, what would likely happen if the level of infection is so low in the community, the CDC might make the option and the recommendation that they will not necessarily require masks. If we still have a lot of activity, of virus, the CDC may still require some children to be wearing masks depending on the level of virus in the community and the degree of vaccination. 

Afton: 

Do you recommend wearing masks even if other people aren’t at school? 

Dr. Fauci: 

You know, that’s going to be a CDC recommendation, as I mentioned, that will in fact depend on the level of vaccination and the level of infection in the community. 

So the problem, Afton, that the CDC is struggling with is how to make everyone feel safe and protected when you have mixed groups. If you have nobody vaccinated, it’s easy. If you have everybody vaccinated, it’s easy. But when you have mixed groups of people vaccinated and not, there will be the concern that there will be some spread of infection in the school. 

And therefore the CDC might, depending on the level of infection in the community, say that in this particular community, with very low or virtually no infection at all, you shouldn’t have to wear a mask. Whereas someplace else, we have a dynamic of infection. And even though some of the kids are vaccinated, you might still have to wear a mask. So we leave that up to the CDC to make that determination based on the factors that I just mentioned. 

But the one thing that’s interesting is that you, as a vaccinated person, should feel absolutely safe, that you’re going to be okay. That’s the thing. Whether or not what’s surrounding you is going to dictate you wearing a mask, you should feel that you are going to be safe from getting infected. 

Afton: 

My last question is, what was the first thing you did after you got vaccinated? 

Dr. Fauci: 

The first thing I did after I was fully vaccinated was to get our friends and neighbors—who we like very much and who, because we wanted to be outdoors in order to decrease the risk of infection before we were vaccinated—to finally, since the weather was so cool at the time, to sit down with friends and a meal without a mask, since everybody in the room was vaccinated. 

But before everybody got vaccinated, we did it outside. And boy, was it cold out there. 

Afton: 

Well, that sounds wonderful. Thank you so much for answering my questions. 

Dr. Fauci: 

It’s my pleasure. It’s good to have been with you. Take care of yourself, now. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

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