As chief safety, quality and epidemiology officer, Dr. David Priest is Novant Health’s top expert on COVID-19. He has helped lead COVID-19 treatment and prevention efforts throughout the Novant Health system. He gets nonstop, complex questions around the clock on the ongoing pandemic. Still, we managed to get on his calendar to ask the one question that a nation of children and parents are asking …
Let’s cut to the chase. Is it safe to trick or treat this year?
I think some variation on Halloween celebrations, or trick or treating, can be created, as long as people adhere to the rules we all know: Avoid having large groups of people congregating together. Avoid indoor settings for parties. Make sure you're masking. And it's always safer to be outside.
Good! No one wants to have to tell kids Halloween is canceled. What about from an adult perspective? Is it safe to give out candy with a cluster of kids at your door?
That's something I’d avoid. Getting creative about how you give out candy is the best way to approach it. Consider individual plastic bags with a set amount of candy and maybe have candy set out on a table where people walk by and pick them up as they go. Or find a way to give it out without having people congregating and yelling “trick or treat” on your doorstep. Having a better way to dispense candy is preferable to having a group of kids on your doorstep.
Should children not go trick or treating with their friends? Should they go with just one adult?
I think they can go with a small group of friends, although they all should wear masks. You’ve got to keep the group smaller – three or four friends outside wearing masks. And while walking down the street, they should try to stay socially distant. I think that's a reasonably safe approach. Just avoid big groups and unmasked folks.
A lot of Halloween costumes have masks, but they would generally have an opening. I'm assuming that is not sufficient protection.
That's true. Kids should use masks that inhibit the spread of COVID. There are some Halloween costumes that would be more authentic with a mask, right? Stick to the kind of mask that helps prevent the spread of COVID rather than, say, a Darth Vader mask.
So, dressing as a nurse or doctor would be a good call this Halloween? Is it safe to decorate those cloth masks or “doctor up” a surgical mask with Sharpies, glue and glitter?
Yes, I think that's a way to be creative and still wear the appropriate mask. Remember: Bandanas and the gaiters you pull up your neck to cover the lower half of your face are not as effective as the surgical-style or other cotton masks.
Is using a Sharpie on your mask OK? Is there any chance kids could be poisoning themselves with the decorations?
Minimal risk – nothing you need to worry about.
You mentioned not having kids come up to your door but instead putting something out in the yard where they can grab candy. If somebody chooses not to do that, do they need to be disinfecting the doorbell after every ring?
I don't think so. As long as you're washing your own hands, there’s little need to be wiping down door handles and doorbells. I don’t want to discourage people from cleaning things, but I would say hand hygiene is more important than wiping down surfaces.
Should kids wear gloves as part of their costume?
Not necessarily. Hand hygiene is better than glove wearing as a preventive strategy. Now if you're Batman, you’ve got to have gloves, right? Don’t avoid gloves – but don't go overboard trying to make them part of the costume.
Do parents don't need to wipe down individual pieces of candy?
I don't think so. Just wash your hands.
How would you recommend talking to kids who balk about wearing a mask with their costume?
Remind kids about how masks keep them safe. Promote the idea that it’s a cool part of the costume. If a child wants to dress as a ninja, the mask fits in perfectly as part of the costume. Let this be the year you find a costume that incorporates the right kind of mask. With little, little kids, it's tough. Try as best you can to keep the mask on them. If they don’t, then stay outside and stay socially distanced as best you can.
What about corn mazes, pumpkin patches and other common fall activities that take place outdoors?
I'm personally OK with that. You need to avoid congregating at the entrance to the corn maze or the ticket booth or anywhere else. And I would make sure those places have some parameters to keep the lines spread out and to help people maintain a safe distance.
I would be concerned about haunted houses if they're enclosed. Avoid them unless you can find one that offers a drive-thru option or that strictly limits the number of people who can come in at one time.
Should neighbors come together and put out sanitation stations for trick-or-treaters?
I don't think, as long as people are doing their own hand hygiene and masking and being socially distant, that a station like that is necessary.