Is It Safe to Go Trick-or-Treating This Halloween?

A pediatrician shares what’s safe to do this Halloween and what precautions families should continue to take.

Halloween safety during the COVID-19 pandemic
Halloween safety during the COVID-19 pandemic

With many Halloween events haven taken a hiatus last year due to COVID-19 precautions, experts are saying that this October — thanks to a better understanding of how the virus is transmitted and an effective vaccine — families can enjoy the holiday in a more traditional fashion, including trick-or-treating.

“We know a lot more this year, and I think everybody deserves to have a little bit of fun, so go have fun and celebrate safely,” says Dr. Gopi Desai, a pediatrician with NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Queens and an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine. But as we return to a sense of normalcy, it remains important to keep safety measures in mind, especially since children under age 12 are not yet fully vaccinated.

Health Matters spoke with Dr. Desai for tips on how we can keep children happy and protected this Halloween.

1. Yes, you can trick-or-treat.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, have both said that it’s safe for children to go trick-or-treating in small groups outdoors.

“I definitely agree,” says Dr. Desai. “Trick-or-treating is a pretty safe activity since we know that being outside is low risk compared to a lot of indoor activities. I’d recommend bringing some hand sanitizer and wearing a mask while trick-or-treating, but kids should go outside and enjoy Halloween.”

Dr. Gopi Desai

Dr. Gopi Desai

2. Ask these questions before going to a Halloween party.

While kids and adults alike enjoy a spooky bash, take a moment before saying yes when invited to a larger celebration.

Dr. Desai advises parents to ask these questions to help determine how safe the event will be:

  1. Is the party indoors or outdoors?
  2. What is the vaccination status of those attending?
  3. How large will the gathering be?
  4. What safety precautions are being taken, such as masking, hand hygiene, and ventilation?

“The more people that you have indoors in a room, the higher the risk,” says Dr. Desai. “Younger kids and their peers are not going to be vaccinated since they’re not eligible yet, but if the majority of the adults and older kids who are eligible are vaccinated, then you’re going to be in a much safer situation than if there are a lot of unvaccinated people. The final decision is going to be an individual one, depending on what the event is and how important it is to you and your family, but consider all these factors.”

3. Continue to wear a mask, wash your hands, and practice social distancing.

Even with children back to in-person school and many restrictions lifted, it remains important to practice safety precautions to reduce the risk of transmission. “Staying outside, trying to maintain distance, washing hands, wearing masks — those continue to be important precautions,” says Dr. Desai.

For Halloween, “try as much as possible to keep gatherings small and outdoors,” advises Dr. Desai. And while parents don’t have to sanitize every piece of candy, kids should definitely wash their hands before digging into their Halloween haul. “Even though we know that the majority of COVID is not spread on surfaces, it’s still a good idea to always wash your hands before eating anything,” says Dr. Desai.

4. If your children are eligible, get them vaccinated.

Vaccines are definitely the best protection you can have,” says Dr. Desai. The CDC recommends that children age 12 and above get vaccinated to help protect themselves against COVID-19 and reduce the risk of spreading it to others.

“If you are vaccinated, then you’re in a really great situation in terms of protection and you have more options available to you in terms of safely celebrating social events,” says Dr. Desai.

5. Include your kids in the planning and find a happy medium.

Compared to this time last year, the country is in a better place with the pandemic, but we’re not out of the woods. “I wouldn’t recommend going to a fully indoor Halloween party where kids are packed in,” says Dr. Desai. “But I think most people are pretty conscious of what’s still happening, and it’s probably easy to find a happy medium where you can get together and do fun things, but also be a little bit more cautious.”

Dr. Desai recommends talking to your kids about Halloween plans and safety precautions to set their expectations.

“Get them involved in the decision-making,” she says. “Say, ‘We may not be able to go to a big indoor costume party, but would you prefer to invite a few friends for a scavenger hunt?’ Let them choose, and they’ll be more invested in the whole day.”

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