BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- It's spooky season, and, no, that's not a reference to the ongoing season of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pumpkins are being decorated, and Halloween, costumes and trick-or-treating are right around the corner. But what activities are safe to do this year? Most kids of trick-or-treating age aren't even eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine yet, let alone fully vaccinated.
We asked Dr. Aaron Carroll, pediatrician and Indiana University's chief health officer, his thoughts on participating in Halloween activities this year.
Question: Is trick-or-treating safe this year?
Answer: First, we have to drop the mindset of things being safe or unsafe. There is no absolute safety; things can either be more or less safe.
As far as trick-or-treating this year, there are definitely ways to allow kids to trick-or-treat. Being outside, staying in small groups (or only with those in your household), maintaining distance when around others, and picking up candy from a bowl instead of being face-to-face with another person are all ways to make trick-or-treating safer.
The opposite then of these recommendations would be considered less safe, especially with unvaccinated kids: being inside, in a large group with no distancing, no masking and interacting for periods of time with people face-to-face.
Q: Is personally handing out candy to trick-or-treaters safe?
A: Again, there are ways to make handing out candy more and less safe. A safer option would be to set out pre-packaged goody bags so kids can come and grab them themselves. If you don't want to miss out of the fun, set up a chair 6 or so feet from the candy so you can still interact with friends and neighbors.
I know some people may want the traditional trick-or-treat experience with ringing the doorbell and physically putting candy into kids' bags. This, obviously, has more risk to it than the grab-and-go option. If you choose this, I'd recommend wearing a mask, even if you're fully vaccinated, and making interactions as brief as possible.
Q: Should we be donning a mask with our costumes?
A: In general, being outside and mask-free is low risk from what we know now about how the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads. If you'll be in a larger group, with people outside your household or interacting face-to-face with neighbors for trick-or-treating, it would be safer to mask up.
If you'll be inside for Halloween activities, I would add a mask to your costume.
Q: What about Halloween parties?
A: We have to think of Halloween parties in the same way we did trick-or-treating: How can we create a safer Halloween party? Hosting something outside will be safer than inside. A smaller group will be safer than a larger group. Masking up will be safer than no masks.
It really comes down to knowing how to make your environment safer and then choosing what level of risk you're OK with to determine what you may consider safe or unsafe.
Q: We're not really into Halloween, but love fall activities: pumpkin patch, hayride, campfire. What's the best way to do those safely?
A: Luckily, most of the fall activities we enjoy in the Midwest are outdoors, with plenty of opportunities for distancing. The more activities you can do outside, the safer you can make them. Go pick pumpkins with your kids, take a hayride (mask up if it's crowded and that makes you more comfortable), invite a small group of friends or neighbors over for s'mores in your fire pit. These are all great ways to stay connected to others, enjoy the fall weather and remain at relatively low risk for COVID-19.