Episode 22: Halloween Safety

Episode 22,  Oct 29, 2021, 03:00 PM

Halloween Safety During COVID-19

Additional resources

COVID-19 and tips for having a safe Halloween

Q1: What is different about this Halloween compared to last year?

Now that vaccines are available, more of us are protected against COVID-19. Everyone 12 and older can be vaccinated. Right now, 53 percent of adults age 18 or older in Oregon’s Black community are fully vaccinated. That’s over 59,000 people vaccinated, which is encouraging. But to really protect our community, we still need to get those numbers higher. So be sure to talk to your family members, friends and coworkers about getting vaccinated if they can.

Another difference is the Delta variant. It’s highly transmissible and is currently the cause of 99 percent of all COVID-19 cases. Unlike previous variants, the Delta variant has been sending more children and younger adults to the hospital. Most people who are hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

We are also almost two years into the pandemic, and people are feeling COVID fatigue—They want to get back to normal. In some ways, we are getting there. This year, we’re out of lockdown and can go back to things like the pumpkin patch, corn mazes, harvest festivals, and haunted houses—All the activities that weren’t open last Halloween.

Q2: How can we keep children safe while they trick or treat?

When giving treats, wear a mask and do it outside, if possible. Also reduce contact:

  • For example, you can hand out candy instead of letting kids reach into the bowl to choose themselves. If you choose to do that, be sure to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before you open the door each time. Also disinfect that doorknob before the trick or treating begins, since you’ll be using it often! 
  • Instead of handing out candy, you could do something more contact-free, like individual bags kids can pick up from a table, or the candy chutes some people made last Halloween. 
When kids are trick-or-treating:

  • Bring hand sanitizer and use it between house visits.
  • Go out in small groups that allow physical distancing.
  • Even if they are wearing a costume that has a Halloween mask, everyone should wear a COVID-safe mask. This is especially true if there is a chance that they will get close to people from other households, whether it’s fellow trick-or-treaters on the sidewalk or people handing out candy at their front door.
  • Make sure children know to avoid large groups—If people are crowding a doorstep or doorway, your trick-or-treaters can stand back and wait for the crowd to leave. This is a good idea no matter where treats are handed out. Also keep six feet of space when you’re sharing the sidewalk with people from other households.
  • Have everyone wash hands before handling treats when you get home. 

Q3: What about indoor activities like Halloween parties, harvest festivals, haunted houses?

It’s best to avoid indoor activities with people from other households unless everyone in your family is vaccinated. If you do choose to participate, make sure the activity or event is taking appropriate COVID-19 safety measures:

  • Are masks required? All public indoor and outdoor settings require masks. 
  • Who can attend? For example, do you need to be vaccinated?
  • Do they have a plan for physical distancing? For example, is there enough space to allow physical distancing between different household groups? You should still avoid crowds and close interaction with other households, unless you know they have been vaccinated.
If you are hosting a party in your home, it’s good to take more precautions, such as wearing masks and distancing, if you have unvaccinated guests or guests who have health conditions that put them at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19. If you have to celebrate indoors, you can open windows to increase air circulation and use an air purifier. 

Q4: What about the outdoor activities that are coming back, like the pumpkin patch or corn maze?

Take the same precautions that you would with indoor events. Masks, the number of people in attendance, and physical distancing are still all important for reducing the spread of COVID-19, even if you’re vaccinated.

Q5: What about our multigenerational households? How do we protect our grandparents and older household members while we celebrate?

The risk of severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age. The CDC reports that people aged 85 and older face the greatest risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and that 8 in 10 COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S. have been among adults aged 65 and older. 

Older household members may be at even higher risk of severe illness due to COVID-19 if they have underlying medical conditions. So, it’s important to limit their exposure to COVID-19, even if they are vaccinated.

If you are hosting a party at home, the safest choice would be something small and outdoors for better physical distancing and air circulation. Indoor activities are still a risk. But if you are indoors, increase the layers of protection:

  • Make sure that unvaccinated guests and family members physically distance from elders and high-risk household members. 
  • Increase air ventilation by opening windows. Use an air purifier.
  • Have everyone wear masks.
  • Choose one or two household members who are not high-risk to answer the door and directly engage with guests. 

Q6: What would you say is the most important thing we can do protect each other, given all the different levels of risk we need to consider?

There are two main things we need to do, and they are important throughout the year, not just as we enter the holiday season.

First, consider the risks of any activities you plan to attend or host. 

  • Protect against those risks with protections appropriate to the vaccination status, age and health of the people you are celebrating with. 
  • For younger children who can’t get vaccinated yet, and for people at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19, take more precautions. We have some links to information about how to protect these groups.
Second, if you can, get vaccinated. 

  • If you haven’t gotten vaccinated yet, make a plan to get vaccinated today. 
  • If you have loved ones who are age 65 or older or are at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 who got their second Pfizer vaccine, they can get a booster shot. If it has been at least 6 months since they got their second Pfizer vaccine, encourage them to get their booster shot as soon as they can. Many different groups have been approved to get a booster if they need it. You can learn more by visiting OHA’s third dose and booster dose website
  • If someone you know is immunocompromised and got their second Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least 28 days ago, encourage them to get their third dose. 
  • You can learn where to get a vaccine by visiting GetVaccinated.Oregon.gov

Q7: What are some low risk activities that youth can participate in to celebrate Halloween?

Recommendations: There are different ways kids can still celebrate Halloween while protecting themselves from possible COVID exposure. Some low-risk activities that we suggest for youth are things such as holding an online costume contest, watching Halloween themed movies at home, pumpkin carving with people in your household, decorating your house or apartment, or touring the neighborhood to look at decorated houses with members of your household. 

Q8: Do kids still need to wear a face mask if they have a Halloween costume that will cover their face?

Traditional commercial Halloween masks that are part of a costume do not protect you or others against the COVID-19 virus. Parents/guardians should do their best to try and provide a costume that allows a trick-or-treater to wear a COVID-safe face covering.

Q9: With so much candy sharing and random home visits, how can the community members ensure youth safety during the celebration?

Recommendations: The starting point could be to make sure the parents remind the kids that COVID is still out there. Even with vaccines, there is still some risk in catching the disease. Every step should be taken to ensure that the kids use hand sanitizer, maintain social distancing and they stay masked throughout the event.

Per CDC Guidelines as quoted in the USA Today, “while the general tradition is deemed safe, it's important for costume-wearers to travel in small groups to go house to house and to avoid boxed-in candy counting/trading scenarios or trunk-or-treat gatherings in a central location.”

Q10: How can we reduce COVID spreading, given the store-purchased costumes, candy containers and the candy itself?

Recommendations: If there are some costumes at home, those could help to lower the risk that comes with store purchased items. If the store purchases can be washable, that could possibly help too. Candy containers will need thorough cleaning and the candy should stay wrapped and safe.

“Masks are an easy way to protect others this fall, but experts caution not to “double mask” by wearing a costume mask over a cloth or surgical mask because it can make breathing more difficult. A fun substitute can be a Halloween-themed mask made of two or more layers of breathable fabric or making cloth or surgical masks part of Halloween costumes.”

Q11: Is it safe to throw a Halloween party at my house and invite guests?

It is best to avoid indoor gatherings with those from other households. If you do throw a party indoors, try to gather with vaccinated people and make sure to wear a face covering, keep your distance and open your windows for ventilation. An alternative option is to also use online platforms such as Zoom to connect with one another and have a virtual party. 

Q12: Are there any safety precautions someone should take if they plan on handing out candy?

We recommend wearing a facemask to protect yourself and others from possible COVID exposure. You might also consider putting treats in individual baggies and handing them out to trick or treaters individually to help them avoid contact exposure from other youth. Please keep hand sanitizer readily available as well.

Q13: So, what’s the CDC advice about Halloween safety on COVID?

Recommendations: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has shared tips on how to safely participate in Halloween activities like treat-or-treating. Those tips include:

  • Avoid direct contact with trick-or-treaters.
  • Give out treats outdoors, if possible.
  • Set up a station with individually bagged treats for kids to take.
  • Wash hands before handling treats.
  • Wear a mask