Trick-or-treating: It's different this year

Last year I pled not to cancel Halloween. We could celebrate safely by implementing innovative public health mitigation measures, like candy chutes made of PVC pipe, wearing masks with costumes, and keeping trick-or-treat gangs small.

This year’s a lot different. As parents, it may seem no different because kids don’t have vaccines and 2,953 counties (out of 3,216) are still in high transmission. But our understanding of the virus has evolved. We’re learning more and more every day. And this evolving science can inform us how to lead a more strategic life, like celebrating Halloween. This year I would place trick-or-treating far less risky than last year.

But this morning I was surprised when the Kaiser Family Foundation published some statistics:

  • 1 in 8 parents say their kids will not go trick-or-treating because of COVID19

  • Lower income, Hispanic, and Democratic-leaning parents are more likely to have their kids stay home

Some of these green bars below are pretty big.

This hesitation could be due to a myriad of things. Some may be playing it safe because of low vaccination rates their county or maybe some families recently lost loved ones to COVID19 and the trauma is raw. I also think these numbers are partially driven by the fact that we haven’t explained how the science has evolved since last year…

So, how has our understanding changed since last Halloween?

Last Halloween we were scrambling to still understand the virus. We didn’t have a centralized, coordinated, well-funded public health response, so we couldn’t quickly learn, for example, common transmission routes. Since, the science has slowly come out and we have a much better grip on patterns:

  • Outdoor transmission is very rare. You may have heard the 10% rule—10% of viral transmission happens in outdoor settings. The White House has even referenced this number. The 10% came from a large, peer-reviewed study in Nov 2020 which pooled all transmission studies ever done at the time. But the authors of that paper later clarified that this was a very conservative estimate and the “real risk” was far lower. There are many studies that show that <1% of viral transmission is outdoors. For example, a much more recent study found construction workers transmitted the virus to 26% of their indoor coworkers while infecting only 1.4% of their outdoor coworkers despite shouting and eating together outside. Airflow is key.

  • Quick interactions are also key. We’ve learned that when outside transmission does happen, it’s due to lengthy and close interactions. Given that trick-or-treating interactions are quick, this will be to our advantage for a safe weekend.

  • Fomite (surface) transmission is extremely rare. We’re talking about only one or two documented cases in the “real world”. Last year, we knew the virus stayed on surfaces a long time in tightly controlled lab settings, but the real world isn’t a lab. Temperature fluctuations and evaporation, for example, can easily damage virus particles. There’s no need to wipe down candy or put in the cupboard for a few days before digging in.

  • Vaccines are now a thing. It’s hard to believe but last year we didn’t have vaccines. Today 67% of people 12+ years are fully vaccinated. The most recent research (from today) shows that vaccinations continue to prevent transmission. Transmission reduction isn’t nearly as strong with Delta, but anything helps. Of course, vaccination rates across counties drastically range: McPherson County in Nebraska, for example, has a 13% vaccination rate while Presidio County on the Texas border has a 99% vaccination rate. Here is a good county-level map to see where your county stands. If your vaccination rate is low, I would consider adding an extra layer of protection (like a mask) while trick-or-treating.

And if you’re handing out candy…

Please recognize that parents are still very much in the middle of a pandemic, even if you’re not. Things you could do to de-stress parents include:

  • Sitting on your porch and placing the candy bucket a few feet away from you. The risk of transmission would essentially go to zero.

  • If you want to literally hand candy to kids, wear a mask. Even if you’re vaccinated. As a parent, it would make me feel so much more comfortable.

  • If you’re symptomatic, do not hand out candy. Turn off your lights.

  • Please wash your hands.

  • Consider handing the accompanying parent an adult beverage :)

Have a safe and enjoyable Halloween weekend! I’ll see you next week.

Love, YLE