California’s summertime coronavirus surge is in full retreat — much to the relief of families looking to scare up some Halloween fun in just a few weeks.
It was around this time last year that the state appeared to have beaten back the worst of the coronavirus. But that dream quickly dissolved into a nightmare as California was engulfed by its worst wave of the pandemic.
And although officials and experts readily acknowledge the progress made in blunting the recent rampage of the highly infectious Delta variant, it’s clear some can’t escape a foreboding sense of déjà vu.
“This time last year, we were experiencing not dissimilar optimism, only to experience that winter surge,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a recent briefing.
This Halloween, however, seems set to more closely resemble pre-pandemic normal than last year’s muted affair — a shift that reflects how the arrival of vaccines has changed the COVID-19 landscape.
During an appearance Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, said outdoor trick-or-treating can be done safely this year — though he added that people should consider being vaccinated if they haven’t already done so.
Still, officials stress, it’s no time to throw all caution to the wind.
“I know residents of all ages are looking forward to celebrating Halloween, and we’re fortunate that there are many safe ways to have a fun time this holiday,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.
As has been the case throughout the pandemic, officials and experts say celebrating is safer outdoors. Having a small backyard gathering, visiting a pumpkin patch or going on a hayride will generally present less risk than walking through a scream-filled haunted house or attending a poorly ventilated indoor party or performance.
Unlike last year, when trick-or-treating was strongly discouraged and even banned in some places, officials say indulging in the sweet and spooky tradition is doable this time around — with some caveats.
“It’s best to set up trick-or-treat events outdoors and limit treats to commercially packaged non-perishable items,” Ferrer told reporters last week. “You could set up stations with individually packaged bags so trick-or-treaters can grab and go at each stop. And that way it’s easier for them to keep a distance from other trick-or-treaters.”
Along with avoiding large groups or crowded situations, health officials recommend that trick-or-treaters regularly sanitize their hands and wear face masks.
Costume masks are not a substitute, officials stress, and should not be worn in conjunction with another face covering.
“There are many festive masks that you can wear for fun,” said Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, an Orange County deputy health officer.
For those doling out the delectables on Halloween night, health officials recommend taking steps to keep youngsters from clustering too closely. Residents might consider using tape to mark out a physically distanced queue leading up to their door, or using a wrapping paper tube to slide candy into trick-or-treat bags.
Such modifications are especially worth considering, officials say, as many of the ghouls and ghosts that will temporarily roam the streets will be children under 12, who are not yet able to be vaccinated.
“The best thing all of us can do to get ready for the holidays is to get vaccinated as soon as possible if we’re eligible,” Ferrer said.
In California, 3 out of 5 residents are fully vaccinated against the disease — a level of coverage that officials and experts think will help shield the state against another disastrous winter surge.
But with millions still having yet to roll up their sleeves, California is increasingly doubling down on requiring the shots for both work and play.
Los Angeles County is now requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for patrons and employees at indoor bars, wineries, breweries, distilleries, nightclubs and lounges. Participants and workers at outdoor events with more than 10,000 attendees also now have to demonstrate they have either been vaccinated or recently tested negative for the coronavirus.
That latter requirement also applies to large L.A. County theme parks, including Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain — both of which are known for their elaborate and well-attended Halloween events.
The rules will soon be even stricter in the city of Los Angeles, where leaders last week approved an ordinance requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination when customers enter indoor facilities, including coffee shops, gyms, museums, bowling alleys and spas.
And although California as a whole has yet to adopt these same vaccine-verification requirements for businesses, state officials have steadily increased the pool of people who must get the shots. Earlier this month, the state announced a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for eligible public and private schoolchildren.
Data continue to illustrate that vaccines help greatly in preventing coronavirus infection, and are particularly effective at staving off serious illness, though officials acknowledge they’re not infallible.
Of 5.7 million fully vaccinated residents in L.A. County, just 1% — or 58,000 people — have subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus.
Across California, unvaccinated people are seven times more likely to test positive than vaccinated people. For the week that ended Sept. 25, for every 100,000 vaccinated residents, there have been only 6.1 coronavirus cases, but for every 100,000 unvaccinated residents, there have been 43.5 cases.
“You’re much less likely to get infected if you’re vaccinated,” Ferrer said.
But the risk of vaccinated people getting a breakthrough infection — and then transmitting the virus to someone unvaccinated — is not zero.
“There are actually studies that have shown asymptomatic, fully vaccinated people capable of transmitting to others,” Ferrer said. “I don’t think anybody should feel 100% certain that if they’re fully vaccinated, and they were to become infected with the virus — even if they’re asymptomatic — that they’re not capable of spreading or transmitting.”
The most important thing that parents can do to protect children too young to be vaccinated is to be immunized themselves, health officials say.