All still true. But with COVID-19 lurking, safety takes on epic importance this year.
Is it safe for kids to go trick-or treating? Is it safe to take candy from strangers during a pandemic? Is it safe to hand out candy? Is it safe to go to a Halloween party — indoors?
Can we do Halloween without getting COVID-19?
This is a Halloween season full of uncertainty.
If you’ve been paying attention, you already know what to do. It’s not magic. Avoid crowds, use good hand hygiene, stay away from big indoor parties and wear masks — the safety kind — even outdoors, in many cases.
You can keep many of your favorite Halloween traditions — but the coronavirus dictates caveats.
“It goes back to the basics,” said Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control for the University of Kansas Health System.
“The message should be wear a mask if you are going out in public, even if you’re going to be outdoors, especially if there are going to be people around you that are not in your bubble or your household, such as at the pumpkin patch or the haunted houses.”
Costume shop owner Jerry Vest in Kansas City, Kansas, has his fingers crossed that Halloween won’t be cursed by coronavirus. The pandemic has nearly pounded his business, Have Guns Will Rent, into the ground. As health experts advise against large gatherings, especially indoor parties, will people even need costumes?
“I don’t know what it will look like. But here’s what I hope Halloween will look like,” said Dr. Angela Myers, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Mercy.
“I hope that as a community we all work really hard to wear a mask in public and stay out of mass gatherings and continue to be careful about decisions we make and the places we go so that we drive down our community rates, which are quite high right now.”
Weather usually dictates the size of candy-begging crowds on any Halloween. Since it happens outdoors — and if household members stick together, travel in as small a group as possible and distance themselves from others — it should be “very reasonable to do trick-or-treating” this year, said Hawkinson.
“Going to get the candy is probably not too much of a risk,” because the interaction is brief and “can certainly be done in a safer way than having parties or get-togethers indoors,” he said.
Doctors, though, are not keen on seeing packs of trick-or-treaters crowding sidewalks this year.
“When you’re walking around with your child, you don’t want to go in a big clump or a big group of people as sometimes happens,” said Myers. “It’s best to remember that we are doing our social distancing right now and try to keep doing that.”
Children should wear masks, even outdoors, she said. “Try to make that as fun as possible,” says Myers. “Think about being creative, letting your child pick their mask. Or if you don’t have one that goes with the costume, you could decorate one that would go with it.”
At home, designate one person — best to be an adult — to hand out the candy. Don’t leave the bowl out for kids to dig into.
“It is a good idea … not having a bunch of kids’ hands in the candy bowl,” said Myers.
Trunk-or-treat events might require some forethought this year, said Myers. Parking cars at least eight to 10 feet apart could help eliminate the typical jams, said Hawkinson.
“Typically when I have seen trunk-or-treat there are a lot of people, so those lines do move slow,” he said, adding this is another event where everyone should wear face coverings.
“Again, the interaction with any one child or any one person is going to be very brief if you’re just giving candy. You can certainly give candy and then move to that six-foot, eight-foot distance. You can keep yourself safe in that way.
“But I think it’s really going to be about the density of the cars. If you can separate the cars enough that’s going to be important for keeping things as physically distant as possible in that parking lot or park, or wherever it may be.”
But, even at a place like a pumpkin farm where “you can probably be spaced pretty easily from other people,” Hawkinson said, “wearing a mask there would probably still be a very good idea.
“Doing those hayrides, you’ll probably be on the hayride or trailer with other people not in your household. Although you are outdoors, it’s probably still a good idea — to reduce the risk of you spreading it if you don’t know you have the disease or you catching it — to be wearing a mask and again, separating as much as possible.”
The same advice goes for haunted houses, he said.
“Certainly waiting in line, although outdoors, with a bunch of other people around you is probably going to be more risky than if you were just able to walk in and go through the haunted house without having to wait,” he said.
“I haven’t been to any in a long time, but from what I remember you are still walking through fairly slowly. You are coming into contact with other people, you are moving into other people’s space fairly soon after they have walked through out of that area.
“We know that the virus is mostly spread by droplets. Those droplets will tend to fall onto the ground fairly quickly, but can you still be walking through where somebody has been coughing or being in proximity where somebody may be coughing and maybe not know they are sick? That is certainly a risk.
“So I think continuing to wear the mask in those situations, using good hand hygiene, and spacing as much as possible is really what is going to be important for reducing your risk of coming into contact with or contracting the disease.”
Halloween. Hand sanitizer. Use it.
“Do you need to do it after every household that you’re going trick-or-treating and getting candy from? Probably not,” said Hawkinson. “But if you want to do it several times … that will be important.”
Early in the pandemic, people were advised to wipe down their groceries. You don’t have to do that to your Halloween candy, says Myers.
People have perfected the concept of drive-by greetings during the pandemic. Teachers driving by their students’ homes. Family members delivering birthday greetings from the road.
Now comes the idea of drive-by trick-or-treating: Kids in their costumes stand in front of their houses as people drive by and toss candy to them. Myers likes the idea.
“I think a community, a cul-de-sac … or neighborhood parade is a great idea,” she said. “I think those are all good options for neighborhoods and communities.”
The idea she doesn’t like: Indoor parties for the kiddies.
“Hopefully the weather will cooperate this year, but it would really be better to hold your Halloween party outdoors and have maybe a bonfire, or something else if it’s a little cool outside to keep folks warm. But, we’re still in a place where large social gatherings aren’t a good idea.”
Risky. Dangerous. Those are the words infectious disease experts use to describe indoor Halloween parties this year, and they’re not talking about the salmonella dip.
For one thing, you can’t stay socially distant in a crowded indoor space. Also, who wants to wear a mask when they’re eating and drinking? And alcohol can lower inhibitions and throw awareness of COVID-19 risk down the toilet.
And just how many people will be at that party? Local governments might have COVID-19 rules limiting the size. Medical experts have their own thoughts on that.
“We certainly recommend and advocate for 10 people or less,” said Hawkinson, because as the gathering grows, so does the chance of the coronavirus showing up uninvited.
“We know that get-togethers spread disease. We know from various published reports that get-togethers such as weddings, such as parties, church groups, fitness classes, easily spread the disease,” he said. “So if you want to continue to hold those types of parties in a facility, in your home, less people is better. People who are normally in your bubble is better …
“Is there a way to do it safely? I’m not so sure. Can you try to adhere to public health guidance as much as possible — and that is the least people as possible, spread out as much as possible, have everybody wear a mask — and do that in a safe manner? Possibly.
“But we know that with every extra person you invite to this party, your risk of getting it, giving it and spreading it is higher than if you didn’t.”
RESEARCH HALLOWEEN EVENTS
Before you go to a Halloween event, consider the risks and whether you feel comfortable taking them, medical experts advise. And ask the event or party planner what COVID-19 safety measures will be in place, they say.
At a party, “we just may not always know who is sick,” said Hawkinson. “Even anecdotally, I know people who are sick who just say, ‘I don’t care. I’m going to go out and do what I want to do,’ whether that’s go to the gym or go to a bar or go to a restaurant, and that’s irresponsibility of those people as well. …
“And that’s kind of the bottom line as far as get-togethers and parties, not only for Halloween but as we move into the colder, winter months where people are going to be really forced to doing things inside.”
Costume shop owner Vest said one of his customers last week dropped “a bunch of money” for a big party she’s hosting in her backyard before Halloween. “I think people are still going to do Halloween this year,” he said. “I really do.”
And then the man who is counting on Halloween to help save his livelihood said, “And by the way, my mother has COVID.”
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