Children can trick-or-treat safely this year with some precautions against COVID-19, according to medical experts.
One such local expert — and a father of four — is Dr. Gary Kirkilas, a general pediatrician at Phoenix Children’s Hospital Clinical and a clinical assistant professor of child health at the University of Arizona College of Medicine — Phoenix.
Kirkilas told The Arizona Republic that each family will have to assess their safety, depending on their vaccination status, underlying medical conditions and risk assessment. Though COVID-19 transmission is still high in Maricopa County and across most of Arizona, he believes most Arizonans can plan to trick-or-treat on Sunday, Oct. 31.
“As long as you’re outdoors and you’re masking, I think you can trick or treat safely,” he said.
Kirkilas answered questions about safety considerations for children in different age groups, best practices for handing out candy and why children should get their COVID-19 vaccine.
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What to consider when deciding whether to go trick-or-treating
Question: What do you think families should keep in mind when they’re planning to go trick-or-treating this month?
Kirkilas: It’s really hard to give kind of a one-size-fits-all advice because I think parents and families will be coming from a variety of backgrounds. Some will have all their adolescents vaccinated. Some families will be mixed where there will be some kids that are less than 12 — they can’t be vaccinated — and the other half of their kids will be vaccinated.
There will be families that have children that are taking immune suppressive drugs or who don’t have a competent immune system due to cancer or something else. So there’s a lot of variety to situations that families deal with.
I would say, in general, outdoor activities are always more safe because the virus tends to transmit easier indoors. If we’re outdoors and kids aren’t clustering all together in groups, I think trick-or-treating can be done safely.
The importance of wearing masks while trick-or-treating
Kirkilas: I would still advise wearing masks just because I do see that a lot where kids will kind of cluster in front of one house, then you’ll have, you know, like, 15 different kids all from different households all together.
To that point, your Halloween mask shouldn’t count as your mask, and I wouldn’t advise doubling up — so if you’re putting on a traditional cloth mask plus another mask, or a Halloween mask, on top of that, because that could lead to difficulty breathing.
As long as you’re outdoors and you’re masking, I think you can trick or treat safely — but just kind of watching out for that clustering of families in front of houses.
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Q: Do you have specific recommendations for children in different age groups?
Kirkilas: Under 2 (years old), it’s not safe to wear masks.
Of course, if you’re over 12, (I) definitely recommend getting the vaccine. That (helps with) a lot of the fear of getting a more serious case of COVID.
For kids that are under that age group, definitely masking is absolutely necessary because they can potentially get (COVID-19) or pass that virus on, in particular in indoor parties. We do have a high transmission of COVID here in Phoenix and most parts of Arizona. So regardless of your immunization status, we definitely recommend wearing masks for everyone.
Safety precautions while handing out candy on Halloween
Q: Do you have advice for people who will be handing out candy?
Kirkilas: If possible, for families that want to hand out candy, if you can do so outside, instead of doing it from the inside. There’s also some families, what they’ll do is they’ll put out a table outside … so that you can distribute candy outside as opposed to being inside your home. Or having pre-set candies, like I’ve seen people putting candies in bags where kids can just kind of just come up to the table and pick it up themselves.
Q: What about hygiene?
Kirkilas: If you’re the person that’s handing out candy, (I) definitely recommend using hand sanitizer before you’re handing out the candy. And then when families come back home, again hand sanitizing before opening any candy.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for children?
Q: As both a doctor and a parent to young children, can you explain why it’s important for children to get vaccinated, including when those aged 5 to 11 years old become eligible? There is some concern about the risk of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle).
Kirkilas: I myself have had adolescents who have had the vaccine and developed myocarditis, which usually presents with chest pain. They go to the hospital. We do some labs, and all the patients that I’ve recovered very well.
And I think it should be placed in people’s minds that the risk of myocarditis from the vaccine is, one, very, very low. And when they do get it, it’s usually just chest pain. We follow up with some labs, and then it resolves. However, the amount of myocarditis from getting COVID itself is actually higher. And when you get myocarditis from the actual disease, it’s usually a more serious (case) requiring hospitalization.
I think parents should know that, yes, the FDA was quite serious about (approving) emergency use (for children 12-15 years old in May). It’s not something that’s given frivolously. When Pfizer and some of these other vaccine companies release their data, the FDA is not just blatantly giving a yes.
What does the CDC say about trick-or-treating outside?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages people who have not received their COVID-19 vaccine to wear a mask in indoor public spaces, and those who are fully vaccinated can consider doing so as well to “maximize protection” from the highly contagious delta variant .
However, face coverings are not safe for children under 2 years old.
According to the CDC, “In general, you do not need to wear a mask in outdoor settings.” However, if you are in a crowded area outside or in close contact with people who are unvaccinated, consider wearing a mask in areas such as Maricopa County where COVID-19 spread is high.
Maintaining social distance from people outside of your household is still recommended.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also told CNN that trick-or-treating outdoors can be enjoyed, “particularly if you’re vaccinated.”
“If you’re not vaccinated, again, think about it, that you’ll add an extra degree of protection to yourself and your children and your family and your community,” he said.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @kimirobin and Instagram @ReporterKiMi.
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