Is It Safe to Trick-or-Treat This Year? Expert Advice for Celebrating Halloween During COVID
In fall 2020, when masks were already mainstream but vaccines were just a pipe dream, the scariest part about Halloween was the prospect of getting COVID-19. That's why so many cities banned going door-to-door for candy. But is it safe to go trick-or-treating this year?
"I certainly hope so," said Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on CBS Face the Nation at the end of September.
While Dr. Walensky recommended that parents and kids "limit crowds" and said that she herself wouldn't necessarily go to a crowded Halloween party, she was optimistic that kids could have some semblance of a normal holiday by October 31: "I think that we should be able to let our kids go trick-or-treating in small groups. I hope that we can do that this year."
With Halloween almost upon us, the safety of trick-or-treating this year is becoming top of mind for many. "Particularly if you're vaccinated, you can get out there," assured Anthony Fauci, MD, chief medical adviser to President Biden, in a more recent interview on CNN's State of the Union.
But of course not all of us are vaccinated—and by "us" we're referring to some of Halloween's biggest, albeit pint-sized fans: children. Since many kids under 12 are already spending time together at school and on playgrounds, trick-or-treating together doesn't pose much additional risk to them, Jack Caravonos, DrPH, certified industrial hygienist and clinical professor of global and environmental public health at New York University, tells Health. The only new variable is people they encounter while going door-to-door. But being outside significantly reduces the risk of a homeowner infecting a child, Caravonos says.
Trick-or-treating indoors is another story. An apartment building where hallways aren't ventilated and air is rushing out of an apartment door poses a risk to a child or parent, warns Caravonos. But that doesn't mean he recommends sitting it out. "If I was trick-or-treating with my children in my apartment building, I would wear a face mask—a decorated one, of course—and place one on my child," he says. "But I personally feel the risk is still very low and acceptable."
The same goes for trick-or-treating in a shopping mall. There may be more people in the mall, but air ventilation tends to be better than in the average multi-family apartment building, Caravonos says. His advice is to mask up if you're unvaccinated, but carry on.
If you and your kids will be trick-or-treating indoors, those who aren't fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should follow the tried-and-true rules that have become commonplace since March 2020: Wear a fitted mask (for kids age two and above), stay six feet away from other humans, cover your coughs and sneezes, and wash hands well when you get back home.
Covering the nose and mouth isn't necessary for outdoor trick-or-treaters since air movement is high, social distancing is possible, and there's a low likelihood of children being infected when supervising adults are vaccinated or at the very least, asymptomatic, Caravonos says. Unless a mask goes with your costume, it can be left behind while outdoors.
As for other PPE and precautions: Gloves aren't necessary, and there's no need to sanitize candy. "It's perfectly safe to eat if it's wrapped," Caravonos says, although he'd boot unwrapped candy or apples—which was pretty standard practice even before COVID.
This list for dos and don't when trick or treating this Halloween can help you reduce your risk.
Trick or Treating dos
Experts agree these behaviors aren't so scary.
* Getting vaccinated before Halloween if you are eligible for a first shot or booster
* Trick-or-treating outdoors with a small group of friends
* Attending a small gathering outdoors or where all guests are vaccinated
* Wearing a well-fitting mask when handing out candy (since so many trick-or-treaters are under 12 and therefore unvaccinated)
* Leaving a basket of candy outside your door, at the bottom of your stoop, or on a table on your lawn for contact-free trick-or-treating
* Washing your hands thoroughly with soap or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before digging into your candy
These behaviors spook public health experts and could increase your coronavirus exposure or chance of infecting others.
* Attending a crowded gathering without great ventilation, without wearing a well-fitted mask, or where guests aren't vaccinated
* Sending unmasked, unvaccinated children door-to-door in an apartment building or shopping mall
* Distributing candy indoors without a mask
* Participating in absolutely any social Halloween festivities if you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and/or have had known exposure (without a negative PCR test)
Even the CDC acknowledges that holiday traditions are important for families and the kids in our lives—especially during holidays that involve collecting copious amounts of free candy.
So while it's only normal to think twice about any event that involves exposing yourself and/or your unvaccinated children to the entire neighborhood, you can breathe easy that trick or treating is a tradition that everyone can take part in safely this year.
"It's a good time to reflect on why it's important to get vaccinated," Dr. Fauci told CNN. "But go out there and enjoy Halloween as well as the other holidays that will be coming up," he said.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.
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This story originally appeared on health.com