Editor’s Note: CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana S. Wen is an emergency physician and a visiting professor at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. Previously she served as Baltimore’s health commissioner. Follow on Twitter: @DrLeanaWen.
Dr. Leana Wen and her husband have their hands full this Halloween in a time of pandemic. Wen spends a lot of her time talking about social distancing, wearing masks and socializing outside to reduce the risk of catching the virus.
But she also has children. Eli, her 3-year old, is very excited to celebrate Halloween, and he may dress up as a fireman. He’s sure he’ll be dressing his 6-month-old sister Isabelle in his Baby Shark costume from last year.
Wen hasn’t given up on Halloween and doesn’t think you should either. Here are her recommendations for reducing your risk while still having a fun Halloween season.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
CNN: How do you plan to mark Halloween?
Dr. Leana Wen: If it’s not raining, our plan is to get together outside with another neighborhood family with little kids. We’ll have to keep a close eye on the kids to make sure they stay at a safe distance, 6 feet away from one another.
The plan is for everyone to dress up and go on a scavenger hunt in our yard for treats. We’ll have individually packaged snacks and drinks. Then we’ll have an indoor movie night for just our household, probably watching “Monsters, Inc.” or “Wallace and Gromit” (Eli’s favorite ever). It’s not quite the same as going trick-or-treating, but it allows us to have some fun and social time while staying safe.
CNN: What concerns you about Halloween?
Wen: Most people know that getting large groups of people together to go knocking on doors and then reaching into the same bowl is a bad idea during the pandemic. So I worry that people are going to get together indoors for parties, which is also a bad idea.
What’s driving this latest surge of infections is small gatherings of friends and extended family. We need to keep in mind that our loved ones are just as likely to be asymptomatic carriers of Covid-19 as strangers. People shouldn’t get together indoors except members of the same household.
CNN: What if it’s cold or it rains?
Wen: Bundle up if it’s cold. If you have a fire pit or external heater, that could also help. If it rains, consider rescheduling to the following day or weekend.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance about aerosol spread — these are the much smaller microscopic particles that carry the virus and can be expelled just by breathing or speaking. They can linger in the air for hours, and our 6-foot distance rule is likely not enough — not even with masks — if you’re indoors in a space that’s not well ventilated. I’d advise masks any time people need to be indoors. Keep as much space as you can, at least 10 feet.
Really try not to get together indoors with people not in your household. Instead, focus on getting people outdoors. There are lots of creative ways to celebrate Halloween outdoors, and it’s much, much safer.
CNN: How can you keep kids apart outdoors? That seems hard.
Wen: It’s hard, but it’s possible. Talk to your kids about why it’s important well in advance of the holiday, and set expectations in advance. Discuss why these limits need to be set. Come up with ground rules for how far they need to be from one another. If they can’t stay at least 6 feet apart, they will need to wear masks. Get kids’ buy-in and brainstorm fun things to do together, safely. Make sure to have lots of hand sanitizer if they’re going to be playing with the same toys and have lots of options to keep kids entertained — and keep a close eye on them.
CNN: What about creating a pandemic pod?
Wen: You could make a pact with another family about what risks everyone is able to take — for example, grocery shopping and going to work in a safe environment is fine, but no socializing with anyone else indoors and no going to crowded gatherings. If everyone agrees to this compact, you could consider one another to be part of a single household and safely socialize with them. That involves a lot of trust.
CNN: How can people have fun this Halloween without taking risks?
Wen: There are lots of ways to have fun! The safest thing to do is to get together with a small group of no more than 10 people outdoors. This is what our family is doing. Of course, anything virtual is safe — like Zoom costume contests. You can also have fun by decorating and carving pumpkins, having scary movie nights with your family or visiting outdoor attractions like corn mazes and pumpkin patches if they’re not too crowded.
If your kids are really intent on trick-or-treating, you can check in with your neighbors and see if everyone can agree to some ways to make it safer. For example, everyone can place treats spread out in their front yards, and all treats are individually bagged. When going door to door, kids can go with their immediate households and stay spaced apart from other families. Don’t knock on the door or go inside. If you live in an apartment block, you could consider organizing an event at a local park with neighbors where everyone is spaced apart.
CNN: What should we remember as the weather gets colder?
Wen: The virus has not changed. It’s just as contagious as ever. We don’t have a vaccine or a cure, but we do know ways to prevent one another from contracting it. It’s going to be even harder now than before. There is a higher level of virus circulating in many communities. Coronaviruses are more active in the winter. The air is drier and so the virus can live longer. And it’s harder to be outdoors because of the cold.
But we really need to be on guard just as much as before. Be particularly careful around loved ones. Most of us are cautious around strangers and take precautions, for example, at the grocery store. Well, we should be just as careful around our family members and friends. Don’t get together indoors for drinks or food or even to hang out casually. If people are going to use the restroom indoors, go in one at a time, wear masks and wash hands carefully.
CNN: Staying vigilant isn’t easy, though. Many folks are weary and frustrated by the pandemic.
Wen: This is very hard, and quarantine fatigue is real. Remember that this is not for forever. We need to get through this winter. After this winter, we may well have a vaccine and some therapeutics that could be effective to reduce the harm of this deadly virus. We need everyone’s help. For those who survive, there could still be lingering effects, and for children, there could be long-lasting effects that we don’t even know about yet. Please use an abundance of caution. We can get through this together!
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CNN: We can still have candy, right? What’s your favorite Halloween candy?
Wen: As a public health expert, I’m not sure I can endorse any kind of candy! Though everything in moderation is a good way to approach Halloween. I’m personally partial to Twizzlers.