With October upon us, you’re probably dusting off your decorations and gearing up for Halloween celebrations. But as the coronavirus pandemic continues to generate uncertainty, in large part due to the highly infectious Delta variant, things will still look a bit different this fall. Since Halloween parties are often crowded and held indoors, you might be wondering if it’s safe to go to a Halloween party during the coronavirus pandemic, even if you’ve been vaccinated. Here’s what experts have to say about spooky festivities for October 2021.
As of Sept. 16, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that the best way to protect yourself during holiday celebrations is to get vaccinated against COVID-19. For people who are still not fully vaccinated — that is, two weeks past their second dose of Moderna or Pfizer, or their single dose of Johnson & Johnson — the CDC advises against high-risk activities, like indoor costume parties or traveling outside of your community to attend a celebration. Any sort of outdoor festivity with small groups is considered a moderate risk, including a socially-distanced outdoor Halloween party. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same guidance given to unvaccinated people in 2020, before vaccines were widely available.)
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 the biggest risk factor associated with any gatherings this fall is “the percentage or proportion of people that are attending that are not vaccinated or that are not immune.” The safest way to have a Halloween gathering, Adalja says, is to ensure that everyone attending is either vaccinated or has recently recovered from the virus. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), studies have shown a majority of people who recovered from a COVID-19 infection retained immunity for several months after getting better.
However, Adalja notes that COVID-19 “has established itself in human populations” and is now here to stay, so even with precautions there’s still a level of risk. So how can you go about making a decision to attend a Halloween gathering this year? “This is all now really going to boil down to someone’s risk tolerance,” Adalja says, “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.”
Dr. Neha Nanda, M.D., Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Antimicrobial Stewardship at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, previously told Elite Daily in 2020 that people should “consider a virtual scenario when possible,” but that there were steps they could take to make an in-person gathering safer. Now, with vaccines widely available across the country, people who are vaccinated don’t necessarily have to be as restrictive about attending gatherings, Adalja says. However, measures that Nanda previously recommended — like wearing a mask, ensuring physical distancing, and being outdoors when possible — could still be helpful if you are immunocompromised, or if even a mild breakthrough case would be disruptive to your schedule.
So what should you consider when making a decision about attending a Halloween gathering this year? Dr. John Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., clinical professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology at Berkeley Public Health, tells Elite Daily that “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.”
Like Adalja, Swartzberg emphasizes the importance of getting vaccinated. “Not being vaccinated.” he says, “is, far and away, the most significant risk factor.” After that, Swartzberg says, the risk calculation you make depends on your personal health, as well as the safety measures in place at any gathering you attend or host. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Will everyone at the party be vaccinated?
- If everyone will not be vaccinated, will people be required to get tested for COVID-19 48 to 72 hours prior to the party?
- Can the party be held outdoors, weather permitting?
- If the party is indoors, will the indoor space be well-ventilated and will it allow for social distancing?
- If you have children who are too young to be vaccinated in your life, could your attendance at a gathering potentially put them at risk?
- And above all, will you be comfortable with your decision?
Even if your risk calculation tells you that it’s safe for you to attend a gathering, you don’t have to do anything you’re not ready for.
“So again, we're coming back to the [calculation] you have to make,” Swartzberg explains. “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. 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.” But what about long COVID? While Swartzberg acknowledges that there is a slim possibility of developing long COVID after vaccination, the vaccines significantly reduce the risk of a mild infection yielding long-lasting symptoms.
While a virtual gathering will still be safer than any in-person activity, people are eager to see loved ones and enjoy holiday celebrations after getting vaccinated. As Adalja points out, the vaccines are not an invincible “force field” against COVID-19; instead, they are “meant to prevent serious illness,” and it “protect against what matters” — like hospitalization and death — even if you’re months past receiving your most recent dose. So if you do decide to attend a Halloween gathering this year, consider wearing a mask in indoor settings when possible, and have a great time.
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 Berkeley Public Health
Dr. Neha Nanda, M.D., Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Antimicrobial Stewardship at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine
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