DR. DUKE ON HALLOWEEN SAFETY
(The following was submitted by Dr. Roger Duke head of the Smith County Coronavirus Task Force. Dr. Duke warns residents to follow health safety guidelines when celebrating the holiday.) Halloween is just around the corner! It is traditionally celebrated in Smith County by gathering individuals for events and activities, participating in the traditional house-to-house “trick-or-treating,” and holding centrally located community-sponsored organized treat handouts. However, the COVID-19 levels are currently elevated in Smith County, and the risk of spread is exceptionally high. As of this past weekend, Smith County was averaging over eight new COVID-19 cases daily. Smith County also had a test positivity rate of 14.87 percent and has been above the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommended level of 10 percent for months. Smith County also had an Average Rate of New Cases/100,000 population over a 14 day period of 42.87, which is significantly above the CDC’s recommended threshold of 10. CDC warns that many traditional Halloween activities can be high-risk for spreading viruses, which is made worse by a community’s risk of spread. Smith County is currently at an increased risk of spread. CDC suggests that there are several safer, alternative ways to participate in Halloween in such cases as these. Based on CDC’s considerations when planning to host a holiday celebration such as Halloween, the community should assess current COVID-19 levels in their community to determine whether to postpone, cancel, or limit the number of attendees (Source: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html). The CDC has issued Halloween celebration recommendations. CDC recommends avoiding the following higher-risk activities to help prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19: •Avoid participating in traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go door to door •Avoid having trunk-or-treat where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots •Avoid attending crowded costume parties held indoors •Avoid going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming •Avoid going on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household •Avoid using alcohol or drugs, which can cloud judgment and increase risky behaviors •Avoid traveling to a rural fall festival that is not in your community if you live in an area with community spread of COVID-19 According to CDC’s recommendations, individuals who should not attend any in-person Halloween celebrations or participate in any Halloween activity for which you will have in-person contact with others are individuals: •That have been exposed to COVID-19 •That have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and have not met the criteria for when it is safe to be around others •Have symptoms of COVID-19 •That are waiting for COVID-19 viral test results •That may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the previous 14 days •That are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 For individuals choosing to attend an in-person Halloween celebration or participate in any Halloween activity with in-person contact with other individuals, CDC recommends: •Social distance and limit close contact by maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet or more from people you don’t live with •Avoid using public restroom facilities at high traffic times, such as at the end of a public event •Minimize gestures that promote close contact. For example, do not shake hands, elbow bump, or give hugs. Instead, wave and verbally greet others. •Wear a mask at all times when around people (which is probably one of the most important recommendations). Do not use a costume mask (such as a Halloween mask) as a substitute for a cloth mask unless it is made of two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers your mouth and nose and doesn’t leave gaps around your face. •Avoid singing, chanting, or shouting, especially when not wearing a mask and within 6 feet of others. •Limit contact with commonly touched surfaces or shared items •Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and any shared items between uses when feasible. Use EPA-approved disinfectant •Wash or sanitize your hands often for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. •If goodie bags are given out, structure this activity such that it is a “one-way trick-or-treating” where individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up for families to grab and go with no contact and while continuing to social distance. If you are preparing goodie bags, wash or sanitize your hands for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing the bags. Please do your part to keep Smith County safe by managing this pandemic during our Halloween celebrations.