Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

By Jonathan Wolfe

Credit...The New York Times

Halloween in America looks extra terrifying this year.

Coronavirus cases are surging across the country for the third time, and the number of recorded cases in the U.S. just hit eight million. Seventeen states have added more cases in the past week than in any other week of the pandemic.

So is it safe to trick-or-treat? Is it safe to celebrate Halloween at all?

Public health experts have warned that going door-to-door for candy could lead to a spike in cases. Several states, including California and Massachusetts, have discouraged trick-or-treating but have not issued an outright ban.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued Halloween safety guidelines that classify traditional trick-or-treating as a high-risk activity, along with indoor haunted houses and crowded costume parties. For safer alternatives, the agency suggests holding costume contests via Zoom, candy scavenger hunts in the home or yard and hosting scary movie nights.

Still, experts say that there are ways to salvage trick-or-treating, or at least to reduce the considerable risks.

If you’re planning to head out, avoid large groups and indoor gatherings, and use a face covering (your costume’s mask doesn’t count). Bring hand sanitizer, and while experts say you probably don’t need to sanitize each and every candy wrapper, you should make sure hands are clean before they touch any sweets.

Dr. Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, suggests in an Opinion article that homeowners place a candy bowl six feet from the door, or on a platter, so children don’t do too much rummaging. Neighborhoods, he adds, can commit to starting earlier so that everyone isn’t all out at once, or even stagger the hours by age groups.

It’s important to remember that Halloween means a lot to children, especially during a year in which they may not be attending school in person or have had their daily routines upended to the virus.

“I think completely taking away Halloween could be detrimental to some of the mental health issues that kids are facing right now,” said Dr. Tista Ghosh, an epidemiologist at Grand Rounds, a digital health care company in San Francisco. She added that it’s best to “balance the risk of whatever activity they’re doing with mental health risks as well, and look for ways to minimize risk rather than reduce risk to zero because that’s just not possible.”

If trick-or-treating is not your thing, here are a few other ways to celebrate the spooky season.

The debate surrounding the use of face masks in the U.S. is far from settled. On Thursday night, in a town hall-style event, President Trump swung between two sides the debate in a matter of minutes, initially supporting masks, but then quickly backtracking.

“On the masks, you have two stories,” Mr. Trump said, claiming falsely that most people who wear masks are more likely to contract the virus.

This is hardly the first time Americans have pushed back against rules that are meant to keep them safe. Our colleague Christine Hauser found a telling analogy from the 1980s: the war over seatbelts.

A legislator in New Hampshire called them constricting. A Michigan man said seatbelts messed up his look. A sailor in Massachusetts argued the government had no right to force him to wear one.

Sound familiar?

Seatbelt skirmishes spilled into capitals, legislative halls and on radio shows. The contours of the debate — and the balance between individual and public interests — have also played out in other matters of health and safety, like vaccinations and helmet laws.

Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.

I got locked down in the Central African Republic in the Congo Basin rainforest with my boyfriend and his mother. Never did I imagine I would be taking care of rescued pangolins. Having such an intimate experience with a wild animal has changed me forever and has turned a difficult time into something incredibly meaningful. To keep it light, we play a daily Trevor Noah clip after dinner for a good laugh.

— Alessandra Sikand, Djomo

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