No need to wipe down Halloween candy this year, so how do trick-or-treaters stay safe from COVID-19?

Holiday can be safe and happy, say Utah public health officials

What should be at the top of the list for making sure your family has not just a happy Halloween, but a safe holiday as the COVID-19 pandemic continues?

Get vaccinated if you can against the deadly virus, according to both state and national public health agencies.

“Many of those ghosts and witches in your neighborhood aren’t old enough to get a vaccine and you don’t want to be the one to give out COVID-19 this year,” the Utah Department of Health advises in a new “COVID-19 Halloween Tips” posting.

Guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer similar advice for “safer ways” to celebrate all holidays, urging Americans: “Protect those not yet eligible for vaccination such as young children by getting yourself and other eligible people around them vaccinated.”

Although an advisory panel to the federal Food and Drug Administration recommended a pediatric dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children 5-11 years old on Tuesday, there are still more steps in the federal approval process and final approval isn’t likely until early November.

That means many trick-or-treaters still won’t have had a chance to get the coronavirus vaccine, currently available to everyone 12 and older. Two other brands, Moderna and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson, are also offered for those at least 18 years old, and booster shots are also now being offered for many Utahns.

A new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll suggests that Utah parents are being more cautious about getting the shots for their children and teenagers than they are for themselves. Although more than 67% of Utahns 12 and older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, just 52.5% of those 12-18 years old can say the same.

New poll reveals how Utah parents feel about getting COVID-19 vaccine for their kids
Burklee Combs looks at Halloween costumes at Spirit Halloween in Millcreek on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

In addition to getting the shots, the state advises wearing a face covering. “Not only your grim reaper mask, but also your COVID-19 mask. If you’re headed somewhere indoors, like a haunted house or a wild witching party, put on a mask and don’t be the creature that spreads COVID,” the site says.

Other tips include washing hands, staying home if you’re sick and getting tested for the coronavirus, holding any Halloween parties outdoors and making sure trick-or-treaters avoid traffic when they’re making their neighborhood rounds with some likely to go out on Saturday night rather than Sunday.

The tone from Utah public health officials is much lighter than a year ago, when Halloween marked the start of the first holiday season plagued by COVID-19. Although there was trick-or-treating in 2020, virus cases were climbing and the worst of the pandemic to date was still to come.

Utah’s COVID-19 hospitalizations as high as during pandemic’s peak — and cases may be on the way up

Then, the state health department offered a longer list of recommendations for Halloween, including wiping down treat wrappers with disinfectant before allowing children to open them, limiting any parties to just immediate family members and considering lower-risk activities like carving pumpkins to celebrate the holiday.

The CDC in 2020 warned, “Traditional Halloween activities are fun, but some can increase the risk of getting or spreading COVID-19 or influenza. Plan alternate ways to participate in Halloween.” Trick-or-treaters were told to make cloth masks part of their costumes, use hand sanitizer while collecting candy and stay 6 feet apart.

Asked about how this year’s Halloween celebration should compare to last year’s, state health department spokesman Tom Hudachko said, “Halloween is a fun and important holiday for kids, and they should be able to enjoy themselves.”

Still, Hudachko reiterated some tips for avoiding the virus: “Outdoor activities, like trick-or-treating, tend to be safest. If your plans take you indoors, being vaccinated, wearing a mask and social distancing will all help keep you safe this Halloween.”

Trick-or-treating this Halloween also has the endorsement of top Biden administration officials.

“Enjoy it. I mean, this is a time that children love. It’s a very important part of the year for children,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said recently on CNN’s ”State of the Union,” urging those not vaccinated to get the shots, available to anyone 12 and older, to make the holiday safer. 

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, also gave the go-ahead for trick-or-treating last month, on CBS News’ ”Face the Nation,” suggesting it should be safe as long as some precautions are taken.

“I certainly hope so,” Walensky said. “If you’re able to be outdoors, absolutely. Limit crowds. I wouldn’t necessarily go to a crowded Halloween party but I think that we should be able to let our kids go trick-or-treating in small groups, and I hope that we can do that this year.”

Alex Aguiniga, left, tries on a Minecraft mask as Gustavo Guarneros and Dominic Guarneros watch while shopping for Halloween costumes at Spirit Halloween in Millcreek on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News