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How a maskless Colorado could impact unvaccinated kids

9Health expert Dr. Payal Kohli said she's concerned about the physical and mental impacts on kids after Colorado loosened COVID-19 restrictions.

DENVER — As vaccinated Coloradans leave their masks behind, some parents with kids too young to get the vaccine wonder and worry about the health and safety of their children.

“It feels nice that the restrictions are loosened, but I think we’re both really wary of what’s going to happen now that it seems like the floodgates have just opened," said Abby Ward.

Ward and her husband, Mike, kept their heads on a swivel Saturday morning as they watched their three children play on a towering jungle gym at Paco Sanchez Park.

“We have hand signs for how many kids," Abby Ward said, holding up three fingers as she spotted Evie, Asa and Dawson. "And we got three, so we’re good.” 

Over time, the couple mastered the difficult art of keeping track of three children. They've learned to roll with the parenting punches, including the kind that hasn't hit in generations -- a pandemic. 

“It’s a first-time learning curve for everyone," Abby Ward said.

On Friday, Gov. Jared Polis announced Coloradans who've been vaccinated for COVID-19 no longer need to wear masks in the vast majority of settings. The state is suggesting but not requiring people who haven't received the vaccine to continue wearing masks.

"Our children under 12 are the vulnerable population now," said 9Health expert Dr. Payal Kohli.

Kids under the age of 12 are the only Coloradans who still haven't been approved to get the shot. Kohli said she's concerned that loosened restrictions could negatively impact children physically and mentally.

RELATED: Polis: Fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear mask in most places

“It’s really going to confuse kids and send a lot of mixed messaging when their parents can take that mask off, but the kids under 12 have to still put the mask on," Kohli said. "It’s going to be hard for parents without modeling that behavior."

Parents like Abby Ward wonder about the behavior of other adults and whether people they encounter without masks are vaccinated or not.

“It makes you wonder if people are being responsible and doing the right thing," she said.

RELATED: CDC recommends schools maintain mask requirements

It's one more thing to keep track of, on top of three kids.

“Your child’s health starts becoming dependent on other people’s behavior, whether it’s accidental or intentional that they take their mask off," said Kohli. "When they’re unvaccinated, it could impact your child’s health.”

Kohli said it's possible case counts could rise among kids who are unvaccinated.

“Kids traditionally don’t get as sick as adults do with this infection, which is good news, but they do serve as reservoirs for spreading the infection, so if kids start having the infection more commonly, there are going to be more cases and there are going to be more cases in the adults," she said.