The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has given Americans a chance to return to normal life and take part in some festivities that were missed during 2020.
One of those yearly celebrations expected to return this weekend for Halloween fis trick-or-treating.
With the pandemic not quite over yet, however, and many children and teens still unvaccinated, there are some fears that the time-honored tradition might not be safe.
Experts told DailyMail.com that trick-or-treating is safe to do this year, but parents should still take some precautions to protect their children and themselves.
Experts believe that children are at little risk when they go trick-or-treating this year, though parents should take some precautions to protect themselves and others in the household (file photo)
Even indoor gatherings at schools or community centers should be safe, but parents should still watch their children and make sure they are washing their hands, among other safety measures. Pictured: Johnstown, Pennsylvania, residents prepare for Halloween festivities at a police department on October 27
‘I think it’s safer than it was [last year],’ Dr Chris Thompson, an associate professor and virologist at Loyola University Maryland, in Baltimore, told DailyMail.com.
Families with someone in the household who is at greater risk of Covid – whether an elderly grandparent or an immunocompromised family member – might want to sit out of festivities this year as an extra precaution, Thompson said.
‘I think every family needs to do a risk assessment, around how likely they are to transmit the disease or how likely they are to have severe infection,’ he added.
Thompson does recommend that parents take some precautions to protect their children – and themselves – while out on the streets.
He suggests masking for children, and potentially dressing up as something like a ninja or doctor where an effective Covid mask could be incorporated into their costumes.
Parents should also make their children who feel sick that day sit out and, for those who do go, to bring hand sanitizer with them and participate in frequent handwashing if possible.
The act of trick-or-treating itself is relatively safe, Thompson believes.
Since the interactions between a child and a person at the door are quick – generally not more than 30 seconds to a minute – the odds of Covid transmission are low.
He would still recommend for some people who plan to hand out candy to opt to place an unattended bucket outside that children can grab candy from for themselves, just to totally remove the risk of Covid transmission – especially for households where someone is at significant risk from the virus.
There is also little risk of the virus transmitting via the candy itself, either.
‘It’s probably pretty safe,’ Thompson said about a child touching a candy wrapper someone potentially infected has touched.
‘There’s been no real evidence linking touching an inanimate object that has the virus on it, and then being able to get it yourself, it really needs to go into the nose, or be breathed into the lungs.’
Some parents may elect to take their children to events at a local school, community center, or at a friends house, and in those cases parents should also take precautions.
‘I would first ask if the event is entirely outdoors,’ Dr Pavitra Roychoudhury, a research associate and virologist at the University of Washington – who has a young child herself – told DailyMail.com.
‘Then, even if it is outdoors, because there are situations where these children can come into pretty close contact with each other, I will look for a good mask, a well-fitting mask, and then [the child] would be wearing it the whole time.
‘Then I would also see that it’s not getting extremely crowded and that the children are not sharing food or or drinks from the same utensils and so on.’
In both situations, parents should consider transmission in their community before taking part in festivities that night.
‘You’d want to do things a little bit different if you’re in a very high transmission community,’ Dr Robert Garry, a virologist and professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, told DailyMail.com.
The nature of the virus means that there are drastically different Covid situations in different parts of the country at any given time.
The risk of Covid transmission via someone handing someone else an inanimate object like a piece of candy is extremely low, experts say (file photo)
Leading into Halloween weekend, Covid transmission in the deep South and Mid-Atlantic – where Thompson and Garry reside – is relatively low, meaning there is an overall lesser risk of contracting Covid.
On the West Coast, and specifically the Pacific Northwest where Roychoudhury is based, cases are starting to rise once again heading into the months where the weather gets coldest.
Garry agrees that trick-or-treating is safe for children, and believes that if a kid is going to school in-person regardless then there is nothing more risky about going out on Halloween.
‘[If a child] is going to go into grade school and interacting with the children in school, I don’t see any real difference between that and, going to the going through the neighborhood outdoors,’ he said.
‘As long as they’re not getting up into the face of the people that are handing out the candy, it’s probably about the same as being in school, so relatively safe.’
All three experts agree that adults should get vaccinated, though, to protect themselves and the children they are with from the virus.
Children are not the only ones who can have fun on Halloween.
Millions of teens and adults will go out this weekend, celebrating the holiday with family, friends and likely a lot of alcohol.
Unlike children, older people do face a significant risk of complications from the virus, making the risk even higher.
Also, while children will largely be outdoors, having small, short interactions with people, adults are likely to be in crowded bars and parties, mingling closely indoors with people for an extended period of time.
The experts are not sure whether or not it is totally safe to go out for adults, though because people will likely go out to party no matter what, they should take some precautions.
Researchers recommend adults and teens that go out on Halloween weekend to get vaccinated to protect themselves from the virus, and to take other simple measures to stay safe like opening windows at indoor gatherings
‘I think that they’re probably going out [for Halloween] already,’ Garry, who resides in one of the world’s party capitals – New Orleans – said.
He recommends that whomever does choose to go out get vaccinated to protect themselves.
Thompson says revelers should ask themselves a few questions before going out that night.
‘Try do risk assessment, how likely are you to be exposed at those parties. You [do] have a fairly high likelihood of exposure…with the high numbers of people in close proximity,’ he said.
‘So, then the other things you want to think about are risk of transmission and risk of severe disease so again risk of transmission.
‘Do you live in a dorm? Do you live in a big family? Are you going to see a lot of other people because of your job or because you go to school. And then, as far as risk of severe infection, do you or any of your friends or family members have underlying conditions which would make it more disastrous to get this disease?’
He said that these questions should be considered before going out over Halloween weekend.
Those who are throwing parties on Halloween night can also take precautions to protect their guests.
‘Having the windows open or having really good airflow has been shown to be pretty effective at helping to minimize the spread,’ Thompson said.
‘Having hand sanitizer around can be beneficial, and just being really clear with your expectations. If someone is sick, ask him to not come.
Roychoudhury also recommends people make sure their friends that are coming to the party are vaccinated, and if possible even to have people take a rapid response test before the gathering to make sure everyone is Covid-negative.