Fox News host Tucker Carlson said earlier this week that forcing children to wear face masks outside during the coronavirus pandemic is “child abuse.”

Carlson, speaking during his Fox News broadcast, said that “the only people who wear masks outside are zealots and neurotics.”

In fact, he said that a vaccinated person who wears a mask outside was similar to “watching a grown man expose himself in public.” He then called on listeners to call the police and report those parents who have their children wear masks.

The comments came hours before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines for wearing a mask outside. The CDC said Tuesday that fully vaccinated Americans can ditch their masks when outside, except in crowded public settings, as I wrote for the Deseret News. So if you’re out jogging, running or walking, you don’t necessarily need a mask — unless you run through a Post Malone concert.

Carlson’s comments about wearing masks outside have a kernel of truth — they aren’t needed in every situation. But health experts said children should not ditch the masks just yet. Young people (and old) should still mask up until they are vaccinated and in many indoors situations. Carlson’s comments also can make targets of health-compromised children whose mask-wearing may have nothing to do with COVID-19.

The debate on children and masks

Masks continue to be a focus as the nation makes strides in vaccinations. As the Deseret News reported, Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Missouri Rep. Jason Smith were among Congressional Republicans who asked the CDC to explain why children should wear masks. The CDC currently recommends children 2 years old and up wear a mask in public and when they’re around adults who don’t live with them.

Lee, Smith and other Republicans sent a letter to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky about the question.

“Multiple parents of young children have been removed from flights, and in some instances, permanently banned, from future travel on the airline they were flying due to their toddler’s refusal to wear a mask,” according to the letter. “These unfortunate events have occurred despite the parents’ best attempts to have their child cooperate with the mask requirement, which is a struggle millions of parents have faced this past year.”

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In Utah, some groups called for parents to send their children to school without masks after the state lifted its mask mandate on April 10, according to the Deseret News. However, the current law keeps the mask mandate for children through June 15.

So should children wear masks?

Dr. Dean Blumberg, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, Davis, told KCRA that children should continue to wear masks.

“Until children are fully vaccinated, they should continue to wear masks. We know that the recent uptick we’ve seen in the Midwest, as well as other places, has been occurring and been traced to sporting events for youth, where they’re not wearing masks,” he told KCRA.

Blumberg said children are still at risk for getting COVID-19, so they should be protected through face masks.

“They’re still susceptible, they still may result in getting severe disease,” Blumberg told KCRA. “And then we’ve also seen children transmit to other family members. The vaccines don’t work 100% and so, really to limit transmission, everyone that’s unvaccinated should continue to wear a mask.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House medical adviser on the coronavirus, told CNN Wednesday morning that Carlson’s comments are “bizarre.”

“I think that’s self-evident that that’s bizarre,” Fauci told CNN. “I don’t want to get into a back and forth with Tucker Carlson, but it’s almost self-evident.”

“You’re talking about child abuse, really?” Fauci asked of Carlson. “Come on.”

When will children be vaccinated?

So when will children be fully vaccinated? Fauci said in February that children will likely be fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus before the end of summer, The Associated Press reported.

“Hopefully by the time we get to the late spring and early summer we will have children being able to be vaccinated,” Fauci said.

Dr. Leana Wen, a public health expert and emergency room physician, told The Associated Press that children need to get vaccinated even though they’ve suffered less severe symptoms in large part.

“Children tend to not become as severely ill as adults but they can still become ill and some have tragically died,” Wen said, according to The Associated Press. “Children can also be vectors of transmission, and getting children vaccinated is important as we strive for herd immunity.”