Is it OK to go trick-or-treating during the pandemic?
Speaker 1: (00:01)
The imminent approval of COVID vaccines for children and San Diego is healthy. Vaccination rates are good reasons for optimism as we head into the holiday season. But local doctors are warning that we are still not back to normal. This Halloween, the highly contagious Delta variant is still keeping new cases and hospitalizations from COVID at unacceptably high levels. So the experts say, even though this Halloween is not as scary as last year, precautions need to be in place to keep trick or treaters safe. Joining me is San Diego union Tribune, healthcare reporter, Paul Sisson, Paul, welcome traveling, despite all the hopeful news we've been hearing about vaccines lately, you say COVID case rates in San Diego are about the same as last year at this time. Why,
Speaker 2: (00:53)
Uh, you know, it's all about Delta, that's the scariest monster as following arrives. I think, um, you know, it has proven that it is more than twice as capable of infecting people as the previous versions that were circulating, uh, last Halloween. And so, uh, it's really interesting to see that this mutation of this virus has really made the case rate hang steady, even though we've seen so much more vaccination in the population than we had last year.
Speaker 1: (01:24)
How does the percentage of positive COVID tests compare now to a year ago?
Speaker 2: (01:29)
We're just slightly lower than we were last year. I think the latest report came in at 2.8% of tests coming back positive. And then the number on the same day, uh, last year was 3.1%. So we see a slightly lower percentage of all tests coming back positive, but a, a, a significantly or somewhat significantly higher case rate per capita. And what about
Speaker 1: (01:55)
Speaker 2: (01:56)
Hospitalizations, uh, are a little higher this year where we're at almost 300 hospitalizations in the most recent report this week. And I think it was, uh, in, in the mid two hundreds last year, uh, though it's important to note that they changed the way that they count hospitalizations over the last year. So I think you probably call that a wash in terms of the number of people with COVID or in the hospital. It's it's about the same as it was last year.
Speaker 1: (02:24)
And they've also changed the number of COVID tests that they've been doing from last year haven't they
Speaker 2: (02:29)
That's right. You know, when kids are, kids are back in school now. And, uh, so if they have contact with somebody who test positive for COVID, then they need to get tested. So it's just created a massive demand for testing this fall and late summer, as, as kids have gone back to school and also as employers have required their un-vaccinated employees, uh, to get tested regularly, that's especially the case in healthcare, which is a huge employer in San Diego. If you're not vaccinated, you have to get tested twice a week. So that really, uh, that means that a lot more tests are being done. And when a lot more tests are being done, you're going to going to find more cases that you might not have otherwise found. What
Speaker 1: (03:09)
Is San Diego's overall vaccination rate right now?
Speaker 2: (03:12)
Uh, San Diego has I think about two thirds of, of all residents, uh, fully vaccinated. It's about 80% of those who are eligible. Uh, remember that only those age 12 and older are currently approved to get vaccinated. Uh, the county tends to count it by, uh, you know, as a percentage of those who are qualified to get vaccinated. Uh, but I think it's important that we don't lose sight of the fact that kids younger than 12, uh, make up a significant part of this population. And none of them are vaccinated and all of them are perfectly capable of transmitting this virus to others.
Speaker 1: (03:47)
Well, that's the point though, the one group who can't be vaccinated, those young children up to 12 years old, they will be making up the bulk of the trick or treaters on Sunday. So does that have health officials concerned?
Speaker 2: (04:00)
Yeah, I mean, you know, they're, they're cautious about overstating their concern, uh, but they, they just don't, it doesn't, it seems like as a matter of public health policy, they're just not quite ready to say, okay, everybody rip your, uh, and 95 mask off and go trick or treat and have a good time and go to all of those Halloween parties with no precautions in place. You know, they, the, the fact that Delta variant remains, you know, a spreading concern in San Diego county, uh, just causes them to, to kind of continue to cancel some caution. Although they do say that there's really not a lot of concern with something like trick or treating, if you're being careful. Uh, you know, as far as the science can tell, uh, there, isn't a huge amount of danger in terms of Halloween candy and that kind of thing as surface transmission of this virus really has not turned out to be nearly as big a deal as we thought it was this time last year.
Speaker 1: (04:55)
Now this year, do they say it's enough to wear a costume mask or do kids need more than that?
Speaker 2: (05:01)
Uh, you know, if you, if you talk to the experts, if you talk to the public health folks or folks, uh, you know, over at UCF, they're pretty much universally recommending a, a more, um, medical type mask. They're saying that that regular, uh, costume masks are, are not quite enough, uh, mostly, uh, given that Delta spreads more easily and people tend to carry a higher viral load, which means that you have a larger, uh, number of viruses in your body than you did with previous versions of the virus. So, so the, uh, the experts are all cautioning to use medical masks if you've been to a grocery store or home Depot, or what have you recently, and looked around, you'll see that, that, uh, the populace in general has to a large degree moved away from masking. And so it's really anybody's guess whether anybody's going to listen to the public health, uh, desire for more masking on, uh, you know, uh, but that's definitely what they are advised.
Speaker 1: (06:01)
So trick-or-treating outdoors is pretty safe kids wearing the right masks and all, but what about Halloween parties? They're still not being encouraged, are they,
Speaker 2: (06:11)
Oh, that's right. Uh, we, we know that parties at least last year, uh, with a less transmissible virus, we're really where, uh, where our big spike in cases over the winter team from people gathering, uh, close to each other in, uh, in rooms and places, uh, with confined, uh, air supply, where, where you have a lot of people hanging out for hours and talking and having a good time, uh, that puts a lot of virus in the air. And, uh, and that is really the, one of the main transmission routes that drives this pandemic. So, so I think they're all quite worried that we're still going to see quite a lot of transmission, uh, just from parties, this holiday season, starting with Halloween and moving into Thanksgiving and Christmas. Uh, and so they are really, really urging, uh, you know, especially parties where you don't know that everyone is vaccinated.
Speaker 1: (07:01)
So the advice on Halloween is pretty much the same as last year.
Speaker 2: (07:05)
That's right. Uh, you know, I think we all thought that it might be a little different this year, given all the vaccination that was going on, you know, starting in the winter and through the spring and, and, uh, you know, and when, when all of the, uh, restrictions came down and mid June, uh, but you know, there's Delta variant just because it's so much more transmissible, uh, just really has put Halloween right back in the spot that it was in the year ago.
Speaker 1: (07:30)
I'm been speaking with San Diego union Tribune, health care reporter, Paul Sisson, Paul. Thank you. Thank you.
Speaker 3: (07:37)
Is it OK to go trick-or-treating during the pandemic?
It depends on the situation and your comfort level, but there are ways to minimize the risk of infection this Halloween.
Whether you feel comfortable with your children trick-or-treating could depend on factors including how high the COVID-19 transmission rate is in your area and if the people your kids will be exposed to are vaccinated.
RELATED: Expert urges COVID caution ahead of Halloween: 'We're not out of the woods yet'
But trick-or-treating is an outdoor activity that makes it easy to maintain a physical distance, notes Emily Sickbert-Bennett, an infectious disease expert at the University of North Carolina. To prevent kids crowding in front of doors, she suggests neighbors coordinating to spread out trick-or-treating.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says outdoor activities are safer for the holidays, and to avoid crowded, poorly ventilated spaces. If you attend a party inside, the agency says people who aren't vaccinated — including children who aren't yet eligible for the shots — should wear a well-fitting mask, not just a Halloween costume mask. In areas with high COVID-19 transmission rates, even the fully vaccinated should wear masks inside.
It’s generally safe for children to ring doorbells and collect candy, since the coronavirus spreads mainly through respiratory droplets and the risk of infection from surfaces is considered low. But it's still a good idea to bring along hand sanitizer that kids can use before eating treats.
For adults, having a mask on hand when you open the door to pass out candy is important.
“You probably won’t necessarily know until you open the door how many people will be out there, whether they’ll be wearing masks, what age they’ll be, and how great they’ll be at keeping distance from you,” Sickbert-Bennett says.
Another option if you want want to be extra cautious: Set up candy bowls away from front doors.