The pandemic is making me think about Halloween costumes and candy earlier than ever.
I am also wondering what my busy block will be doing. Will the couple at the end of my street have the player piano going as they hand out treats? Or will they go dark, as they did last year, worried about spreading coronavirus if they participate?
My family is now fully vaccinated, since my child is, amazingly, a teenager. But are we safe to wander out in our Halloween-crazed neighborhood? We don’t know who is vaccinated among the 12 and older set, and the under 12 set cannot yet be vaccinated.
I decided to ask CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen how to celebrate safely, whether your family is fully vaccinated or not. An emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, she is also author of a new book, “Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health.” And she is the mother of two young children.
CNN: Let’s get to the most important question — is it safe to go trick-or-treating this year?
Dr. Leana Wen: Yes! I plan to go trick-or-treating with my kids.
To be sure, as with most things at this stage in the pandemic, I don’t mean that everything is exactly back to 2019. People should still take precautions this Halloween, especially if their kids, like mine, are too young to be vaccinated (my son is 4 and my daughter is 1 1/2).
Trick-or-treating can be pretty safe from a coronavirus standpoint. Many families in my neighborhood will be placing packets of treats in their yards for kids to find, like a scavenger hunt. My son and a couple of friends will be walking around together, with everyone’s parents, of course, and this activity is very safe.
There are a lot of people who want to return to pre-pandemic days and greet the kids as they say “trick or treat.” If it’s not raining or snowing, I’d encourage them to set up outdoors. It’s better to put wrapped candies in a kid’s basket than for kids to be reaching into a large bowl. If the kids do end up touching each other’s hands or other commonly used surfaces like doorknobs, make sure to have hand sanitizer available.
If you live in an area with individual houses or townhomes, I think it’s probably also low risk to knock on people’s doors and trick or treat. Just make sure not to step inside someone’s house. If you live around a lot of apartment blocks and have to enter elevators and hallways to trick or treat, the Covid-19 risk is significantly higher. I’d encourage parents not to enter other people’s apartment buildings, and instead, look for activities in a neighboring park or other primarily outdoor settings.
CNN: Are there other Halloween activities that you would encourage kids, particularly younger, unvaccinated kids, to stay away from?
Wen: In general, I’d encourage unvaccinated kids to stay away from indoor parties. Coronavirus transmission is still at very high levels in many parts of the country, and children now constitute more than a quarter of new infections. Indoor activities remain high risk. Luckily for our kiddos, outdoor trick-or-treating is the safest activity, and candies are individually wrapped.
CNN: What about kids who are older and already fully vaccinated?
Wen: I think parents should have a conversation about their kids as to what level of risk they are willing to take as a family. There may be some families where everyone is generally healthy and vaccinated. The risk of any of the family members getting severely ill in that case is low. It may be reasonable to decide that an indoor get-together with friends is fine — especially if all the friends and their parents are also vaccinated.
The same goes for activities like the movies, a dance or a haunted house. All of these activities will have some degree of risk. The risk increases with higher community transmission rates, larger numbers of attendees, and crowded, poorly ventilated spaces. Wearing a mask when indoors, around people of unknown vaccination status, is always a good idea to reduce the risk of contracting and spreading Covid-19.
Just as there will be some families that are willing to take on some of these risks, there are other families that want to take additional precautions. Some families have younger children who are not yet vaccinated. They could be living with elderly relatives who are immunocompromised. For people in such circumstances, it may be reasonable to avoid higher-risk indoor activities to protect others in the household.
CNN: If you were invited to a Halloween party, what questions would you ask?
Wen: I’d ask who is going to be there. If everyone attending is known to be vaccinated, that would be a lot safer than if there are people who are unvaccinated or are of unknown vaccination status.
Also, where will the party take place? If it’s mainly outdoors, and attendees can choose to remain outdoors the entire time, that will also be much lower risk than if it’s taking place entirely indoors.
If it’s indoors, will it be crowded with people packed together? Or will windows be open and people can space out? That also changes the risk calculus. Of course, you should also take into account your own medical circumstances and those of your family members, as we discussed previously.
CNN: Kids ages 5 to 11 may get authorization to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by Halloween. Should parents try to get them the shot as soon as possible so they can enjoy the holiday?
Wen: Many parents will be very eager to get their younger kids vaccinated, but it wouldn’t affect their activities over Halloween. Even if kids can get their first shots just before Halloween, they wouldn’t be considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after their second inoculation.
CNN: And now, the most important question — what are you and your kids going to dress up as?
Wen: My son, Eli, is obsessed with Winnie the Pooh. That’s what he was last year, but we never got to go trick-or-treating in the outfit, so he may do that again this time. I think he wants to dress his sister as Piglet. We definitely look forward to getting together with some of Eli’s friends’ parents to go trick-or-treating in the neighborhood — and then gathering in our neighborhood park for a playdate.