This year, due to unnecessary guidelines restricting outdoor activities, many children will be stuck inside when they should be outdoors in the sunlight playing, learning new skills, making friends, and enjoying their childhoods.

This is not only important for their mental health but also their physical health and enhancing their immune system. Attending summer camps is a huge part of this growth.

Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that the CDC had “hugely exaggerated” their guidelines by saying that less than 10% of COVID-19 transmission occurs outdoors and that the actual estimate of outdoor transmission is somewhere between 0.1% to 1%.

We have known for quite a long time that the risk of transmitting COVID-19 outside is small. And in Iowa, there was not a requirement to wear masks outdoors; however, physical separation and maintaining small group size was encouraged.

Iowa is home to several great summer camps including Forest Lake Baptist Camp in my home county; Hertko Hollow, a camp for children with diabetes; and Camp Courageous, a camp specifically for children with disabilities.

Rep. Miller-Meeks Official Photo

Due to shelter-at-home orders and school closures, the numbers of youth depression, anxiety, attempted suicides, suicide, increased drug use and hospitalizations have continued to increase despite the decrease in new COVID cases, hospitalizations, and mortality rates. A staggering report from the CDC found from March to October 2020, mental health-related emergency department visits from adolescents had increased 31% from the same time in 2019.

As a doctor, former President of the Iowa Medical Society, and former Director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, I have addressed the severity of COVID-19 and have been a strong and consistent advocate for all three of the safe and effective vaccines developed through Operation Warp Speech, and just finished attending and administering vaccines at clinics in all 24 counties in my district.

We can see the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel, and as the number of Americans who are vaccinated continues to grow, coupled with those who have natural immunity from having the disease, I expect to see a return to normalcy and pre-pandemic life very soon. A return to normal includes allowing our kids to be kids.

With the CDC’s new mask and distancing guidance, I would urge them to update their summer camp guidance immediately so that our children can have the experience and opportunities they deserve this summer.

Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a resident of Ottumwa, represents Iowa’s Second District in the United States House of Representatives.