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Should we be blowing out birthday candles right now?

How has COVID-19 affected this age-old tradition?

In a world where the threat of COVID-19 is still very much alive, the act of blowing out candles over a cake — and possibly spreading the airborne virus — is making some people nervous.
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In a world where the threat of COVID-19 is still very much alive, the act of blowing out candles over a cake — and possibly spreading the airborne virus — is making some people nervous.

Such is the tale of reality TV star Kendall Jenner, who became the subject of scrutiny Halloween weekend when a video surfaced showing the socialite blowing out candles at her 25th birthday party.

“Kendall Jenner blowing out candles as a masked waiter holds her cake and tries to move out of the way was actually the scariest thing I saw on Halloween,” reads one tweet that now has more than 54,000 likes.

Are such concerns grounded, or are people overreacting? Here’s what experts recently told TODAY Food.

The risk

“Blowing out candles can expel virus particles, just like breathing, talking, singing, shouting, coughing and sneezing, if the person is infected,” said S. Patrick Kachur, a professor of population and family health at Columbia University who recently spoke with Today Food.

He added that the act of blowing out candles projects one’s breath further than regular speaking — which comes with added risks if the festivities include people outside of a person’s quarantine bubble.

Kachur said he doesn’t plan on blowing out candles on his birthday cake this year, and recommended others to refrain from doing so as well — especially if the festivities are taking place indoors or in a public area.

Smaller celebrations

Today Food also spoke with David M. Aronoff, director of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Division of Infectious Diseases. The doctor advised those with birthdays on the horizon to be extra cautious about who they invite to their parties. He said:

“If the person blowing out the candles on a cake is doing so around people with whom they already live (housemates, family members, etc.) then it is likely they are already sharing their breaths without masks on. Thus, the risk is not as high as if the candle-blower was doing this in public or around people with whom they do not share a household.”

Aronoff’s advice: If you’re going to blow out some candles over a cake, be sure to do it around people in your immediate family (or quarantine bubble). He added that children can spread the virus without exhibiting any symptoms, and families with older members and others at higher risk of illness probably shouldn’t consider doing it.

A new spin on an old tradition

Kachur said people can take simple precautions to lessen the chance of spreading the virus.

“Every risk can be mitigated to some extent,” he said. “For example, you could celebrate outside or separate the candles from the cake itself.”

People are also finding inventive alternatives for the old tradition, according to Today Food. One person recommended using a paper fan to extinguish the candles, while another suggested having the guest of honor blow out a candle on an individual cupcake.