By Alexandra Becker
Last year, Halloween night was especially ghoulish as families struggled to keep traditions alive while also protecting their children and themselves from COVID-19. From ingenious contraptions for safely distributing candy to socially distanced costume contests to altogether cancelled plans, it was certainly a grave evening compared to Halloweens past. But this year, thanks to the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines and a steady decline in hospitalizations, infectious disease experts agree that families can “treat” themselves to traditional celebrations once again by following a few “tricks” to ensure a safe and happy Halloween.
Within weeks—if not days—after Oct. 31, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is expected to be approved for children ages 5 to 11, offering protection and peace of mind for holiday gatherings throughout the year’s end. But because most children who will be trick-or-treating are, as of now, still too young to be vaccinated, Dr. Linda Yancey, MD, an infectious disease expert with Memorial Hermann Health System, encourages families to continue following recommended safety measures for anyone who is unvaccinated.
“Because the SARS-CoV-2 virus is still predominately spread through air droplets, I would recommend incorporating masks into kids’ costumes for an added layer of safety,” Yancey said. “For any adult who is still unvaccinated, I would also urge them to wear a mask since the streets in some neighborhoods can get crowded and, again, will be full of unvaccinated children.”
Yancey added that for houses handing out candy, minimizing contact is still advisable.
“I would sit outside rather than have trick-or-treaters come directly to your door, ring your doorbell, and yell ‘trick-or-treat’ into your living room,” Yancey said. “This reduces the risk of air droplets entering your home. I would also drop candy directly into the trick-or-treater’s bucket rather than having them reach into yours, further minimizing contact.”
Yancey added that adults should have hand sanitizer at the ready and consider trick-or-treating at houses where they regularly interact with those families.
“I know we are all sick and tired of this pandemic, but as we learned from this last surge, it is unfortunately not yet over,” Yancey said. “Things are certainly looking optimistic and those of us who are vaccinated have a level of protection we only dreamed about last year, but we still urge caution and hold safety as a top priority—especially as we are so close to having a vaccine available for our younger population.”
With that said, Yancey added that she still recommends families avoid large indoor gatherings if anyone in the group is unvaccinated, including any child in the 5 to 11 age group. She also reiterated some of the standard Halloween safety recommendations, which continue to be relevant even during these unprecedented times.
“As with years prior to 2020, we continue to advise parents to follow standard safety protocols, such as carefully checking candy, avoiding choking hazards, and throwing out any candy that is not store-bought and individually sealed,” Yancey said. “In addition, every group should include adult supervision to ensure kids remain on the sidewalks and watch for traffic, and we recommend bright, highly visible costumes as an added precaution.”
Yancey said that with these guidelines in mind, she anticipates a night of safe and spooky fun.
“The real treat will be next year,” she added. “If we all continue to do our part and get vaccinated, we may be celebrating a pandemic-free Halloween in 2022.”