For Halloween enthusiasts, last year was a bummer. The fear of contracting COVID-19 scared off some people from participating in traditional activities. And while most cities allowed trick-or-treating to happen, leaders cautioned people about potential risks and some events were cancelled.
This year, with the delta variant lurking around, health experts continue to advise caution -- especially because kids under the age of 12 are not yet able to be vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the Minnesota Department of Health, recommend that people keep Halloween gatherings small and outdoors. They also suggest people consider wearing masks, especially if you're at an indoor event.
Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist with Mayo Clinic's Children's Center, says the keys to protecting yourself and others from transmitting or contracting COVID-19 are to practice preventative measures and avoid high-risk situations.
"We know that when it comes to the preventative strategies we've been advocating over the pandemic, they're much more effective when used in combination than any single strategy," Rajapakse says.
If you're socializing with people from outside of your household, the combination of preventative strategies she says works best includes masking, social distancing when indoors, making sure there's good ventilation when indoors, keeping groups small, practicing frequent handwashing and getting vaccinated if you're over 12 years of age. The CDC adds that people with weakened immune systems should heed the strategies on this list even if they are vaccinated, because they may not be fully protected.
Rajapakse divides Halloween activities into two groups: high risk and low risk.
High risk activities you should avoid:
- Indoor activities, such as Halloween parties and haunted houses
- Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 or who tested positive in the last 10 days for COVIF-19 should not participate in activities
Low risk activities to enjoy:
- Outdoor activities, such as trick-or-treating with small groups, exploring corn mazes, visiting pumpkin patches, attending smaller outdoor parties
Rajapakse has answers to some of the more common questions parents ask about Halloween and COVID-19.
What about costumes? Do kids need to wear COVID masks under or over their costumes?
"Halloween is kind of a unique holiday, in that masks are already built into it," says Rajapakse. "For safety reasons, wearing a surgical or medical mask underneath a Halloween mask has been discouraged just because it can make it harder to breathe."
She says parents or caregivers should check to make sure kids can breathe easily through any mask they wear. And kids should not share masks because doing so could transmit infection. Only masks that cover the mouth and nose (but that allow for easy breathing) can help prevent transmission.
What about Halloween candy? Is it safe to eat?
"As we know COVID is not spread through food itself," says Rajapakse. "We have learned through the pandemic that surface transmission really is a very minor way that this virus is transmitted. In terms of doing things like wiping down all the candy, that's not necessary."
What should people answering the door to hand out candy do to protect the visitors and themselves from COVID-19?
"Adults should be vaccinated, as it will be very effective at reducing your risk of an infection," Rajapakse says. "I think it's reasonable for you to wear a mask."
She adds that trick-or-treaters should stay outside and you should frequently wash your hands.
Should adults or kids get tested for COVID-19 after Halloween?
Rajapakse says that if you or your child attend an indoor event where many people were not masked or if you had a known exposure but don't have symptoms, testing 3 to 5 days after the event is reasonable. If you develop symptoms, testing is recommended.
If you have questions or concerns about COVID-19 and Halloween activities, contact your health care provider.
Vivien Williams is a video content producer for NewsMD and the host of "Health Fusion." She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.