Doctor: Be COVID cautious if trick-or-treating

·4 min read

Oct. 26—A Geisinger doctor recommends taking precautions this year if parents are planning to take their children out for Halloween trick-or-treating.

Dr. Swathi Gowtham, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and director of pediatric infection prevention at Geisinger's Janet Weis Children's Hospital, said parents taking their children to trick or treat and people handing out candy should all be cautious if they are participating in Halloween activities this year.

"The rules of COVID haven't really changed in 2021," said Gowtham. "Outdoors are better than indoors. You should still maintain safe distance. Avoiding clustering and crowds is always a good idea. Wear masks, particularly when you're indoors. Practice hand hygiene."

Gowtham recommended making the mask a part of the costume.

"Costume masks themselves are not enough," she said. "Make the masks part of the costume. Make it fun. Make sure to cover the nose and mouth."

If you are a resident handing out treats, Gowtham recommended putting them in pre-packaged baggies on a table so not everyone is putting their hands into the same dish or bucket.

"You don't need to wipe it down," she said about candy being received. "Maybe keep it aside for a day. If you do prepackaged, that's the biggest way to be safe. Don't wipe it down with chemicals."

Gowtham recommends the same protocols for other activities as well, including scavenger hunts, apple picking and pumpkin picking.

"Those are neat activities that can be outside," she said. "If you're doing that, make sure you have hand sanitizers to clean your hands before and after. Make sure to wash their hands."

The best way for older children to be safe is to be vaccinated, not just against COVID, but also influenza and other respiratory viruses, said Gowtham.

Outdoor activities are better than indoor activities, she said.

"If it's indoor activities, everyone should be masked," she said. "Parents are role models. If they model good behavior children will follow."

Jason McCarrick, of Northumberland, said he and his family are looking forward to going trick-or-treating this year.

"Trick-or-treating is gonna be awesome, that's all I'm gonna say," said McCarrick. "It's always fun. I just hope this year more houses participate since last year was kind of dampened by COVID."

His 7-year-old son Dresden is going as an "evil ninja."

"He enjoys it every year," said McCarrick. "We love trick-or-treating in Northumberland. It's always a good time."

The First Reformed United Church of Christ at 160 Chestnut St., Sunbury, is hosting a Trunk or Treat event at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 31. The public is invited.

"We're in the parking lot, we're not indoors," said Judi Boyer, administrative assistant at the church. "It's only pre-wrapped candy. We're not doing any other food. It's strictly trick-or-treating in our parking lot."

They hosted the first one in 2019 for community outreach and then participated in the reverse parade in 2020.

"We got seven vehicles that will be decorated to pass out candy," said Boyer. "It's festive and safe."

The National Confectioner's Association reported that sales of chocolate and candy are up 48 percent over 2020 and nearly 60 percent over 2019.

"Chocolate and candy sales have come roaring back during the 2021 Halloween season as excitement continues to grow and consumers tell us they're ready to celebrate," said Association President/CEO John Downs. "(This year), 82 percent of Americans say they plan to celebrate Halloween, including 93 percent of millennial parents and retailers are going strong on Halloween displays this year, with iconic orange and black sets coming back in a big way. Up from 80 percent in 2020, 87 percent of people say they will purchase the same amount — or more — of Halloween candy this year. Which all makes sense, because what would the Halloween season be without chocolate and candy?"

The association reported that retail sales are at $324 million, up 48 percent compared to the same period in 2020 and 59.8 percent from 2019. Chocolate for Halloween alone is at $199 million in sales, up 55.5 percent from 2020 and 70.3 percent from 2019.

Purity Candy Company, based in Allentown with a retail store in Lewisburg, is also seeing its sales increase from last year, said owner John Burfeindt Jr.

"Halloween is always good," he said. "It's the first season after a hot summer. That's the kick-off to our season from now until Valentine's Day. The colder weather means people want their sweets and comfort food."

Purity Candy is more specialized, so Burfeindt said it is not often used for just handing out during trick or treating. It's more for parents and grandparents to gift to their own children, he said.

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