Trick-or-treaters should head out cautiously this year, experts say

Trick-or-treaters are seen in this file image. (Pexels)

With Halloween right around the corner, experts say trick-or-treating this year may be safe depending on where you live, but ghouls and goblins going door-to-door should do so cautiously.

Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, did not recommend trick-or-treating last year, but told CTVNews.ca that this year is different depending on the COVID-19 rates of your location.

“It's safer for most people this year and right now the amount of COVID -- depending on where you live -- is lower,” she said in a recent phone interview. “I think it really depends on the numbers. For example, in Alberta, I don't think trick-or-treating right now is the best idea, but versus a small town where there's not a lot of COVID where people are vaccinated.”

A spokesperson for Alberta Health said “there are currently minimal restrictions that will impact Halloween,” but trick-or-treaters should stay home if they are feeling any symptoms and avoid touching doorbells or railings.

According to CTVNews.ca COVID-19 case tracker, there are nearly 19,000 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, hands down the most active province in Canada. 

Dr. Brian Conway, infectious disease specialist at the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, agreed with Banerji that people in both Alberta and Saskatchewan should be more cautious this Halloween and added that it should be an outdoor-only activity across Canada this year.

“Let's keep it outdoors, let us make sure that the houses that are being visited, we have reason to believe or we have knowledge that the individuals in the house are vaccinated, so you would be going to friends, neighbours and the like,” he said in a recent virtual interview.

Banerji added that regardless of the local rate of COVID-19, parents might want to consider other options, such as exchanging candy with a small group of friends or keeping treats out on a table for the children to grab.

Conway suggested that parents should somehow find out if the houses they are visiting are vaccinated, either through keeping the trick-or-treating to the people they already know or doing their best to pre-screen a route ahead of time.

“We're going to live in COVID world for a long time and for the foreseeable future, this will be a world of the vaccinated and unvaccinated,” he said. 

“This activity, trick-or-treating, really is to be done by vaccinated individuals only and for younger folk who can't be vaccinated, we need to make sure that they are surrounded during this activity only by vaccinated people.”

Conway stopped short of suggesting trick-or-treaters should be asking homes for proof of vaccination, but said Halloween is a chance for people to become more used to these kinds of circumstances.

 “Hopefully this will be another occasion -- an important occasion -- for our children where this normalization will just continue in COVID world,” he said.

Banerji noted that it’s important for children to understand that there may be fewer homes to approach for trick-or-treating, in part because some people may not feel comfortable with the crowds at their door.

“I think there's a lot of adults that maybe are compromised or may not feel very comfortable having a whole bunch of primarily unvaccinated kids coming to their doorstep,” she said.

“I think people who are not comfortable, if Halloween goes on, should turn off their lights and we should have a high acceptance that there are many people that don't feel comfortable with it.” 

For parents debating whether to send their children out for Halloween, Banerji said it ultimately comes down to what kind of risk the parents are willing to accept.

“Could there be spread among these children that are unvaccinated? Yeah, there could be, but there's also potential for spread in classrooms,” she said. “I think the risk of exposure is fairly low, but when you have many different kids coming, then the risk may go up.”

Last year, Ontario did not recommend trick-or-treating in Ottawa, Peel, Toronto and York Region due to high case counts, while the Village of Westport, outside Kingston, Ont. cancelled Halloween festivities all together.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief public health officer, told reporters on Thursday that trick-or-treating this Halloween will be allowed to proceed, but it should be outdoors as much as possible and hand sanitizer should be used frequently. Children are also encouraged to get creative with incorporating a facemask into their costumes.

Several other provinces, including Saskatchewan, are still coming up with plans for Halloween.

In a statement, the Public Health Agency of Canada said any direction on trick-or-treating if left up to the provinces, but Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, previously suggested those handing out the candy could have them pre-packaged and handed out individually, with plenty of hand sanitizer around.

Each of the experts and government groups agreed that the typical COVID-19 suggestions of maintaining a distance of two metres from others and wearing a facemask also apply this Halloween.

“This year -- as for last year -- the scariest Halloween costume is the one without a mask. So wear a mask,” Conway said. 

With files from CTV News Writer Alexandra Mae Jones, CTV News Toronto and The Canadian Press

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