A leading Triad infectious disease expert said Thursday the current COVID-19 environment could allow for limited trick-or-treating and other Halloween events.
However, Dr. Christopher Ohl of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center cautioned during his Thursday news conference that large indoor parties should be avoided as should large indoor gatherings.
Ohl said he is "very happy and content" with where the region is at "right now" with the level of COVID-19 cases, including Forsyth County being in the 17-to-40 daily range over the past 12 days.
"There are ways to have a safe and fun Halloween," Ohl said.
Handing out candy "can be done without a lot of personal contact with it ... and have kids approach homes one group at a time," Ohl said. "Adult costume parties are not a good idea, particularly if you are doing it indoors. Halloween masks don't work as a mask for COVID.
"Trick-or-treating, I'm going to take a difference with the CDC and say there are ways you can do it safely if you keep your distance, wear an appropriate mask and stay away from crowds," Ohl said. "Take the shopping cart approach."
Ohl agreed with elements of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Halloween guidance issued Monday.
The CDC said that "many traditional Halloween activities can be high-risk for spreading virus."
That includes: going door to door to receive candy and other treats; handing out candy from trunks of cars lined up in a large parking lot; indoor haunted houses and costumed parties; hayrides with individuals not in your family; and traveling to a rural fall festival not in your immediate community to avoid virus community spread.
The CDC listed as moderate-risk activities as including (in supervised settings): providing candy and treats in individually wrapped goodie bags at the end in a driveway or edge of a yard; having an outdoor costume parade with social distancing restrictions; outdoor haunted forests or trails.
The CDC said that children should not wear a Halloween mask over a protective cloth COVID mask "because it can be dangerous if the costume mask makes it hard to breather. Instead, consider using a Halloween-themed cloth mask."
"If screaming will likely occur, greater distancing is advised."
Ohl said daytime trick-or-treating is advisable. He favors candy and other treats being tossed out Mardi Gras style to children in their yards and driveways as long as they are supervised by parents or other family members.
Still, Ohl said to expect that many households will choose not to participate in trick or treating because of the pandemic.
Ohl said he has been encouraged by Forsyth's recent level of positive tests being in the 3% to 5% range over the same time period.
"I don't think it will change a lot in the next month or so," Ohl said.
However, he cautioned that a second COVID-19 wave could arrive by late November or early December — within the same time frame of the typical first wave of influenza in the region.
"I still think the hardest time for us will be January and February," Ohl said. "We have a couple of holidays to get through before then.
"Those two months are going to be a slog, and there may be a fair amount of COVID around and we'll need to be careful."
The 2020-21 flu season officially begins Oct. 1 and lasts for six months, although it has lingered into mid-May in recent years.
Ohl said he "strongly recommends" getting a flu shot to not only lessen exposure to the flu, but also potentially for COVID-19.
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