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Is Halloween Safe This Year? Experts Weigh In

With the right precautions, get your costume ready and fill the candy bowl for spooky fun

a masked adult puts candy in the basket of a masked trick or treater child

Getty Images

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Last year, COVID-19 forced Halloween revelers to get creative: There were candy chutes for contactless treat delivery and outdoor candy tables. Some people, particularly those over 50 and more at risk, opted out altogether.

This Halloween is a lot less scary, at least when it comes to the coronavirus. Although official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is still in the works, experts are giving the green light to enjoy the creepy holiday.

Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently endorsed celebrating Halloween safely, especially for those who have received a COVID-19 vaccination. “I think that, particularly if you’re vaccinated, you can get out there and enjoy it,” Fauci said on CNN’s State of the Union.

Of course, that comes with caveats.

“If you’re able to be outdoors, absolutely. Limit crowds. I wouldn’t necessarily go to a crowded Halloween party, but I think that we should be able to let our kids go trick-or-treating in small groups,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a recent interview on CBS’ Face the Nation.

Older adults can enjoy Halloween, with some precautions, says Vivek Cherian, a Baltimore, Maryland–based internal medicine physician at Amita Health. His advice for those over 50 — vaccinated and unvaccinated: Practice social distancing, minimize gathering in large groups, and wear a mask. Experts also recommend sticking to outdoor activities like trick-or-treating, hay rides and pumpkin patches.

“Bottom line, you can participate in Halloween events this year; just be smart about it,” Cherian says.

Enjoy Halloween, but with precautions

Halloween Safety

Is it safe to give out candy? Yes. You may want to wear a mask (not the costume variety!) as you open and close your door to protect yourself and others.

Is it safe to trick or treat with my grandchildren? Yes. Consider wearing a mask to protect yourself and children who are unvaccinated. Try to avoid crowded areas.

Can I get COVID-19 from touching candy? Unlikely. Medical experts say COVID-19 is largely spread through respiratory droplets and not on surfaces.

Is it safe to go to a Halloween party? Maybe. Outdoor gatherings are safer than indoor gatherings. Avoid crowded indoor gatherings. If indoors, make sure to wear a mask.

Unlike last year, when door-to-door trick-or-treating was considered high risk, this and other outdoor activities are probably the best low-risk options. Indoor gatherings raise more concerns. Experts suggest considering factors like the vaccination status of those who will attend, the number of people expected and ventilation. An indoor event may be okay if all attendees are vaccinated — or it can be risky if you or others are unvaccinated.

Nothing is zero-risk, Cherian says, but in the past year and a half scientists have learned that surface transmission of the coronavirus is not as much of a concern as experts initially suspected. Airborne spread, particularly by the more- contagious delta variant, is much more significant.

“The issue has always been, and continues to be, respiratory droplets [and] face-to-face transmission,” Cherian says. “Continue to wear your mask while out trick-or-treating, but you don’t need to worry about the virus being on the candy and spreading afterwards.”

It’s important for adults to wear masks to protect themselves and those around them — particularly children, many of whom are still ineligible for vaccines, Cherian says.

“The data has shown with the delta variant even if you are vaccinated and you have a breakthrough infection (regardless if you are symptomatic or not), you essentially carry the same viral load in your nasopharynx as those individuals who are unvaccinated, and this can be unknowingly spread to others without proper caution,” Cherian says.

a photo of lynn ganter in a nurse costume in front of a blood splattered window with caution tape that says caution stay away and warning this house is haunted

Courtesy Lynn Ganter

Halloween is one of Lynn Ganter's favorite holidays.

Lynn Ganter, 59, from Carlsbad, California, has always loved Halloween. She is all about getting dressed up and truly loves to party at local bars and clubs with others enjoying the festivities. After a few years of quiet Halloweens at home, she was planning to go all out for Halloween 2020. The pandemic derailed those plans — and the rest of the holiday season.

Ganter and her boyfriend tried to make the best of it. “We put chairs outside, and the kids would come up and we kind of tossed the candy into their basket,” she says.

Ganter was also impressed by neighbors who constructed elaborate chutes as a socially distant way to give out candy. But it wasn’t the same. This year she is vaccinated and hoping to resume her tradition of dressing up and going out. She’s considering a nurse costume with a witty sign to poke fun at COVID.

“All of us have missed out on a year of our life,” she says “I am almost 60 and it’s like I feel like I’m running out of time to do things. I want to get back out and do things.”

But Ganter also worries about unknowingly spreading the virus to others.

Costumes, bonfires and tarot cards

a photo of zumba instructor suki hing

Suzanne “Suki” Hing

Zumba instructor Suki Hing plans to get in costume for her classes.

In Norfolk, Virginia, Suzanne “Suki” Hing, 50, felt the impact of COVID on Halloween last year. Hing is a Zumba instructor who teaches chair-based dance fitness classes in senior communities.

Last year, classes had resumed by Halloween, but there were few participants. Hing assumes people were afraid. This year she has special theme classes planned and will dress up along with attendees.

But the impact of 2020 and the isolation many seniors felt during this time can’t be undone. “This pandemic has definitely changed us in more ways than one,” Hing says.

As a professional tarot reader, Patti Woods says Halloween is her favorite holiday. Like others, the 51-year-old Trumbull, Connecticut, resident tried to make the most of last year but even her usual outdoor bonfire, which was easy to adapt to practice social distancing, felt off. Many guests seemed hesitant, she says.

She hopes this year will be better. Woods is planning to read tarot cards in the morning and have the bonfire in the afternoon. “I think people will be a little more comfortable this year, so I’m anticipating a few more friends to sit around the bonfire,” she says.

Across the country in San Diego, California, the Odoms — Jeri, 68, and Robert, 60 — have scaled down the Halloween bash they normally host, transforming their home into a full-blown haunted house. They want to enjoy Halloween but plan to make efforts to protect themselves and those around them. 

“We’re vaccinated, but still mindful of COVID,” Robert Odom says. “We are taking precautions by limiting our guest list, providing hand sanitizer, and have plenty of outdoor areas for guests to socially distance.”

Medical experts say the way to approach Halloween safely mimics the way people should approach other social events.

“If you are fully vaccinated, are wearing a mask and limit attending any large gatherings,” Cherian says, “you likely will be in pretty good shape to participate in any Halloween events.”

 

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Carlett Spike is a contributing writer who covers race issues, health and food. Her work has appeared in 
PreventionShondaland and Columbia Journalism Review.

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