#childsafety | Sonoma County health officer greenlights Halloween trick-or-treating


On the day local health officials acknowledged a significant number of local parents may be unwilling to have their young children vaccinated against COVID-19, Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase gave the green light to Halloween trick or treating — though with certain precautions.

Last year, local health officials discouraged the door-to-door activity because of increasing case rates. Mase said Wednesday that at this time last year there was no COVID-19 vaccine to combat virus spread.

“We believe that it’s safe to do outdoor trick-or-treating for Halloween and take part in outdoor Dia de los Muertos activities this year,” Mase said, during a COVID-19 update broadcast Wednesday on Facebook.

“But trick-or-treaters should avoid large groups and should wear a mask that covers their mouth,” she said. “Before eating any treats, people should wash their hands or disinfect with sanitizer.”

Mase’s recommendation follows federal advice. On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and encouraged kids to “go out there and enjoy Halloween.”

During the county update Wednesday, officials also discussed steps now being taken to prepare for the vaccination of children ages 5 to 11. Officials said federal emergency use authorization could be granted to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine later this month or early November.

Casey D’Angelo, vaccine chief for Sonoma County Office of Education, cited a recent national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation that found 4 in 10 parents reported they would “wait and see” before getting their children under 12 vaccinated after federal authorization.

Only 26% said that they would get their kids vaccinated “right away,” while 25% said they would “definitely not” and 9% said they would only do it if required. D’Angelo and Mase said they hoped that in Sonoma County more parents would be willing to get their young children vaccinated.

D’Angelo said local vaccination efforts aimed at kids 5 to 11 will focus on those most likely to have their children vaccinated. Officials said about 37,000 children in Sonoma County are in that age group.

“Our goal right now is to work on that 26% and the 40%, trying to get as many of those vaccinated as possible,” D’Angelo said, adding that schools and pediatricians are going to play a crucial role in getting parents off the fence.

D’Angelo said public health staff have already begun meeting with local school districts to identify clinic locations and plan outreach strategies. The first doses, pending authorization, are expected to be administered in early November.

He said the Kaiser survey found that parents of children ages 12 to 17 who received school-based COVID-19 information or were encouraged by school officials to get their child vaccinated were more likely to do so.

“This suggests school outreach can help increase vaccination rates, which is why our focus right now is helping schools spread that information,” he said.

D’Angelo said it took about four months to achieve a 70% vaccination rate among ages 12 to 17. He said the county hopes to achieve a 25% pediatric vaccination rate by Dec. 1; 50% by Jan. 31; and 70% by the end of February.

Dr. Ari Hauptman, a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente in Santa Rosa, said the vaccine dose for children, once approved, would be a smaller dose. He assured its safety and said millions of people in the United States have already been given the vaccine, including, more recently, children 12 to 17.

“It’s been given to adults all over the world for so long,” Hauptman said, adding that even with a smaller dose, studies have shown that children receive “a good antibody response.”

Mase encouraged children to be safe during Halloween events. She said indoor gatherings of unvaccinated people, including children, should be avoided. She offered the following tips for safe trick or treating:

* People who are sick or who think they may have been exposed to COVID-19 should stay at home.

* Residents who greet trick-or-treaters at their doorstep should wear a mask while distributing candy.

* Instead of having children reach into a candy bowl, consider handing out individually wrapped treats or placing them on a table.

* Do not distribute candy if you’re sick or have been exposed to the coronavirus.

“As more people get vaccinated, we do hope to return to more of a sense of normalcy and start to enjoy the holidays that we missed last year,” Mase said. “But we also need to do so safely with the virus still circulating in the community.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.



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