Unvaccinated children still need to wear masks when playing with friends, especially while indoors, Dr. Anthony Fauci insisted Thursday.

The recommendation from the country’s top infectious disease expert came just hours after the CDC eased its mask guidance for fully vaccinated Americans, saying they can stop wearing masks and practicing social distancing in most settings.

But Fauci said in his first interview following Thursday’s announcement that youngsters should continue to take precautions such as wearing a mask to protect themselves against COVID-19.

“The children do when they’re out there playing with their friends, particularly in an indoor situation, they do,” Fauci told CNN Thursday.

recess Louisville Kentucky kids
Children younger than 12 are not currently eligible to receive the vaccine.
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Fauci noted that children ages 12 through 15 are now eligible to get vaccinated with Pfizer’s shot and added studies show that “children of any age” could be inoculated as soon as the end of the year.

Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Fauci stopped short of “declaring victory” against the pandemic.
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Fauci said Thursday’s new mask guidance is not an indicator that the virus has run its course in the US.

The CDC is still advising people to don face coverings on public transportation, including air, bus and train travelers, through mid-September.

Children wearing masks play together in Central Park.
Children wearing masks play together in Central Park.
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“I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s essentially over,” he said. “I think this is a very important step in the direction of trying to get back to some degree of normality. Because this is something that everyone has had on their mind … and being able to go around without a mask indoors as well as outdoors is really a big step in that direction.”

The CDC’s new guidance says that both unvaccinated and vaccinated Americans can be outside without masks. People who aren’t inoculated, however, should still wear face coverings if outside with a group of both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people, according to the federal health agency.

Fauci stopped short of “declaring victory” against the pandemic, but said he was encouraged by the country’s progress against the virus that has killed 584,000 Americans as of Friday.

Nearly 119 million Americans are fully vaccinated and more than 154 million — or almost 47 percent of the population — have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of late Thursday, CDC figures show. All told, more than 226 million vaccine doses have been administered.

Rego Park, Queens playground mask
A chalk drawing at a playground in Rego Park, Queens, encourages children to mask up.
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CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the new guidance also applies to outdoor settings like concerts, where the agency was still advising people to don face coverings just two weeks ago.

“You certainly could wear a mask if you wanted to but we are saying in those settings based on the science that it is safe,” Walensky told reporters Thursday.

A masked student plays on a slide while another student waits their turn during recess on the playground of Medora Elementary School in Louisville, Kentucky.
A masked student plays on a slide while another student waits their turn during recess on the playground of Medora Elementary School in Louisville, Kentucky.
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The CDC also plans to take another look at its guidance for schools and summer camps, Walensky said.

“We have work ahead of us in terms of updating our guidance with regard to all of our settings,” she told reporters Thursday.

Washington Square Park children
Nearly 119 million Americans are fully vaccinated and more than 154 million have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
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