TAMPA, Fla. — This is not the year to bob for apples.
Then again — pandemic aside — the Halloween tradition of kids drooling in a bucket of water and apples is unsanitary on any given year, said Dr. Paul Nanda, family medicine doctor at Tampa General Hospital.
His family plans to dress up as the cast of the movie “Moana.” But they’ll still be taking steps to stay safe for the pandemic’s second Halloween.
As kids look forward to showing off their costumes and collecting a pillowcase full of candy, parents should keep in mind the spookiest threat this Halloween: a “twindemic,” a severe flu season unfolding alongside an ongoing pandemic, overwhelming the health care system.
Contracting one virus could leave someone vulnerable to getting the other. But children 11 and under are not yet eligible to receive the COVID vaccine, and it takes weeks for the flu shot to kick in. That’s why it’s important for adults and older kids — especially if they’re unvaccinated — to practice pandemic safety around younger kids this Halloween.
Nanda and Michelle Sterling, BayCare children’s wellness and safety expert, offer parents and partygoers these tips to stay safe while celebrating.
Is trick-or-treating safe?
That’s because it’s generally an outdoor activity, allowing people space to social distance and air to ventilate. But extra steps can be taken to ensure it’s done safely.
Rather than have everyone crowd around the front door, Nanda encourages setting up a table with candy and hand sanitizer at the end of the driveway, or at least away from the entryway, so kids and parents can more safely mingle.
That’s what Nanda’s Tampa neighborhood started doing last year in light of COVID.
“Parents gather around, sometimes with an adult beverage in their hand,” he said. “It just prevents a lot of people in a small space.”
It’s also safer for kids to wait until they get home so they can wash their hands before digging through their spoils, Sterling said.
What about trick-or-treating indoors?
Trick-or-treating outside is the safer option, Nanda said. Families who choose to trick-or-treat indoors, in a mall or building, should keep their masks on and practice social distancing as much as possible.
Halloween parties? Haunted houses? Bar crawls for adults?
The risk of transmitting COVID — and the flu — always rises when people gather into crowded spaces. Getting vaccinated protects yourself and others.
Nanda suggests requiring guests to show proof of vaccination and a negative COVID test result before they’re allowed to come to the party.
Bar crawls tend to get crowded, so Nanda is wary of that activity this year. While the delta variant wave is receding, winter could bring a new wave of infections.
For all other celebrations, Nanda said, the same advice stands: Mask up. Social distance when possible. Know that socializing outdoors is safer. And get vaccinated.
What’s the safest place to celebrate Halloween?
It’s the same place that has kept many safe during the 20-month pandemic: home.
Sterling suggests carving or painting pumpkins, decorating with homemade Halloween-themed crafts, having a scary movie night or creating a candy-filled scavenger hunt throughout the house.
“There are a lot of different ways to have fun if you choose to stay home,” Sterling said.
What if my kids just got the COVID vaccine or flu shot, or both?
Everyone who can get vaccinated should do so as soon as they can. But kids who do so now are cutting it close for Halloween.
The flu shot requires at least two weeks before taking full effect. Kids between 6 months and 8 years old getting their first or second flu shot will need two doses, per CDC guidelines. The second dose is administered four weeks after the first.
Kids ages 12 and up who receive the Pfizer COVID vaccine will need two weeks after the second dose to reach full immunity.
Nanda still encourages anyone considering either shot to get both right now.
Doing so now will protect kids and everyone else for the coming holidays. Traveling and family gatherings during Thanksgiving and Christmas will offer more opportunity for the spread of disease, just like last year, according to Nanda. Florida’s flu season is also about to begin, and it peaks in January and February.
So getting your shots now will still pay off.
What does the CDC say about holiday celebrations?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people avoid gathering in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces and forgoing masks while indoors. Gathering outdoors is always preferable.
Vaccinated people should still wear masks in communities with high transmission rates or households with individuals with weakened immune systems. Children 2 and under should not wear masks.
The CDC encourages unvaccinated people to get the shot as soon as possible to protect children 11 and under who are still ineligible for the vaccine. If families are gathering from different parts of the country, they should consider getting a COVID test before travel.
Got some other safety tips for kids during Halloween?
Poisoned candy is the stuff of “urban legends,” according to the myth-busting website Snopes.com. There have been some instances of metal pins and razor blades being concealed inside Halloween candy, but those cases are rare. Parents should still check the candy when they get home.
The real Halloween hazard is being on the street at night.
Pedestrians are at higher risk of being injured by drivers on Halloween. Sterling reminds drivers to look out for kids and drive with extra caution during trick-or-treating or neighborhood parties.
Parents should remind their kids to watch out for drivers, Sterling said, so they should always look “left, right, left” before crossing the street and only cross at the ends of intersections or driveways, where the concrete meets the road. Crossing the street by darting across from one lawn to the other is dangerous.
Sterling said another hazard is dark costumes that make it harder for drivers to see trick-or-treaters. Parents should add some reflective material to their kids’ outfits so they’re more visible at night.