With Halloween 2021 just around the corner, you’re probably getting ready to celebrate after over a year of masking up and sheltering in place. But as the highly infectious Delta variant continues to spread across the country, you might not be ready to throw caution to the wind just yet, even if you’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus. So, how can you safely enjoy spooky season this year? It’s possible. Below, I’ve put together some tips from experts so you can celebrate Halloween while still being cautious about COVID-19.
As of Sept. 16, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have advised everyone eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine to get vaccinated, in order to protect against severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Fully vaccinated people — those who are two weeks past their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna, or their single dose of Johnson & Johnson — can resume many of the activities they did prior to the pandemic, per the CDC, but they still need to take precautions, particularly in regions where the Delta variant is spreading at a substantial rate.
Experts say that vaccinated people can celebrate Halloween safely this year, but not without taking certain safety measures. Read on to find out what you can do to celebrate safely this year.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, M.D., F.I.D.S.A., an expert on emerging infectious diseases, pandemic preparedness, and biosecurity at Johns Hopkins University, tells Elite Daily that “if you are unvaccinated, you should get vaccinated. Period. The vaccine protects against what matters.” If you are unvaccinated, you are at much greater risk of severe illness and death from the virus, especially if you choose to attend any Halloween festivities.
What about if you’re already vaccinated? Well, you should feel free to celebrate — but not without certain precautions. According to Dr. John Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., clinical professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology at the U.C. Berkeley School of Public Health, vaccinated people should still strongly consider masking up indoors, ensuring good ventilation in indoor settings, and socially distancing when possible. After that, it’s all about what you’re comfortable with.
“If you're 25 years old, you're in excellent health, you're fully vaccinated, you have no underlying health problems, and everybody else around you is going to be vaccinated, the risks of you getting infected are small,” Swartzberg tells Elite Daily. “If you get infected, the risks of getting very sick are very, very small. So, I think you should feel fairly secure and enjoy any party.”
Consider festivities with vaccinated people only.
As Swartzberg points out, “there's nothing in life that is 100% safe, but there are ways to mitigate the risks to such an extent that it becomes negligible for most people.” One way to do this, Adalja says, is to host or attend festivities that “only have people who are vaccinated or who are immune to infection” — that is, people who have recently recovered from COVID-19 — in attendance. According to The New York Times, vaccinated people can still shed the virus, but unvaccinated people are much more likely to contract and spread COVID-19.
If, however, some party guests have a medical reason for not being able to get vaccinated, then Swartzberg recommends requiring those guests to be tested for the virus 48 to 72 hours before the party. If they test negative, they can attend. “That would be a little greater risk than having everybody 100% vaccinated,” Swartzberg says, “but not a lot greater.”
Think about what activities you’re comfortable with — and respect others’ choices, too.
Adalja and Swartzberg both make it clear that not getting vaccinated, or attending festivities with unvaccinated people, are two of the biggest risk factors going into the holiday season. But if you are vaccinated, then the rest is really up to you: What is your risk tolerance? “Some people will have no problem going to an indoor Halloween party,” Adalja says. But “some people may have a different risk assessment of it.”
To figure out what you’re comfortable with, Swartzberg recommends asking more questions about any festivities you plan to attend. In addition to inquiring about the vaccination status of other guests, you might also want to ask if the party can be held outdoors, weather permitting. And if it’s going to be held indoors, will the space be well-ventilated and allow for social distancing? Will people be sharing food and beverages from common receptacles, or will refreshments be portioned out in advance?
Swartzberg also advises vaccinated people to think about their own risks. “If you're a young, otherwise healthy person with no other medical problems, your risks, if you get infected with COVID, are small to start with and if you're fully vaccinated, they're negligible,” Swartzberg says. “On the other hand, if you're somebody who's got significant risk factors — for example, immunocompromised or elderly, the risks are more significant if you get infected. So that [calculation] changes.”
If you’re planning to host a celebration, be transparent with your guests: Let them know if you’ll be requiring guests to be vaccinated, and what precautions you plan on taking during your event. If they decide the risk isn’t worth it for them, respect their choice. But even if you decide a Halloween gathering isn’t safe enough for you this year, parties aren’t the only way to celebrate. Outdoor activities like trick-or-treating should be a safe choice this year, Swartzberg says, even for unvaccinated children — especially if everyone is wearing a mask. CDC Director Rochelle Wolensky echoed this advice, telling CBS on Sept. 26 that she hopes kids can safely go trick-or-treating in small groups this year.
Be mindful of any children, elderly people, or immunocompromised people in your life as you make decisions.
As Swartzberg says, the risk calculations for participating in Halloween festivities this year change for children, the elderly, and people who are immunocompromised. As of Sept. 30, children under 12 are still not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, but Pfizer is currently seeking authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to administer its vaccine to children between the ages of five and 11.
“For [children], COVID-19, especially in the younger age group below the age of 12, this is less severe on average than influenza or RSV,” Adalja says, but he suggests your decision-making process around Halloween festivities may need to change if there’s a high-risk child — one with asthma, for example, or who has other medical problems — in your home. The key, Swartzberg says, is to ensure that everyone in your family who is eligible to do so gets vaccinated, to form a wall of protection around any unvaccinated children.
Older adults and immunocompromised people, meanwhile, face a higher risk of getting seriously sick from COVID-19, even if they have been vaccinated. If you fall in either of these categories, or if people close to you do, then your decisions need to factor that in. What might not be as risky for a younger, otherwise healthy adult, might be unsafe for people who are members of these high-risk groups. As of Sept. 27, the CDC is recommending booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine for people older than 65, as well as for anyone 18 or older who lives or works in a high-risk setting or has underlying medical conditions.
Ultimately, however you decide to celebrate this Halloween, “there's still going to be a COVID risk because the virus has established itself in human populations,” Adalja says. “So, I think that this is all now really going to boil down to someone's risk tolerance, and for the fully vaccinated, even if they were to get a breakthrough infection, it would be mild because the vaccine would do its job.”
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, follow the CDC’s instructions regarding testing. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Elite Daily's coverage of coronavirus here.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, M.D., F.I.D.S.A, expert on emerging infectious diseases, pandemic preparedness, and biosecurity at Johns Hopkins University
Dr. John Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., clinical professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology at the U.C. Berkeley School of Public Health