With Halloween just days away, some people might be wondering how unvaccinated children can trick-or-treat safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But for University of Ottawa epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan, taking part in the annual outdoor tradition is a fairly low-risk activity that can be done without too much worry.
“Go trick-or-treating, be outside, go door-to-door. Minimize your contact. Don’t get close to people,” said Deonandan. “Say hi and move on.”
Unlike last October, when the Ontario government recommended against trick-or-treating in COVID-19 hot zones like Ottawa, health officials are taking a more lenient approach this year.
Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s medical officer of health, has said that while trick-or-treating is permissible, it should take place outdoors as much as possible, recommending parents ensure children take turns and keep interactions brief while going door-to-door.
Deonandan said it’s fine for children to go out with friends from other households as long as they’re outside together.
Handing out candy is also safe and low risk, he said, as long as people take precautions to prevent the transmission of droplets and aerosols.
That means avoiding long conversations and keeping visitors at arm’s length, Deonandan said. For those who wish to be extra cautious, they can limit contact by leaving candy on a table, he added.
Avoid apartment buildings, parties
For families who may have children or other household members who are more vulnerable to COVID-19, Deonandan says there are other ways to minimize risk.
“Maybe you take extra precautions. Maybe you wear a better quality mask … or distance better than everyone else,” he said.
While outdoor trick-or-treating is safe, going door-to-door in an apartment building isn’t recommended because “you can’t control the ventilation situation in a crowded hallway,” he said.
For Deonandan, it’s not trick-or-treating but rather another Halloween staple he’s most concerned about.
“My biggest fear is the Halloween parties that people are going to have,” said Deonandan. “Especially younger people who have a lower probability of being vaccinated.”
Costume mask ‘no substitute’
Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, has said that “things are different this year” given the protection that COVID-19 vaccines offer.
While Halloween trick-or-treating can go ahead, Etches has said it’s important to remember that unvaccinated people will be at greater risk.
“Children aren’t vaccinated, so my recommendation is to be cautious about gathering when there are children,” she told CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning earlier this month.
“Can you gather outdoors [or] limit your close contacts? Keep the gatherings small … do trick-or-treating one family at a time. Wear a mask. You know, all of these things make a difference.”
At an Oct. 7 press conference, Moore said that trick-or-treaters should avoid shouting to reduce the spread of aerosols.
He also cautioned against overcrowding doorsteps and urged people to use hand sanitizer often, especially before and after handling treats.
“Be creative — fashion a face covering into your Halloween costume design,” said Moore. “But remember, a costume mask is no substitute for a proper face covering.”