Halloween is quickly approaching, a time for costumes, masks and candy. And even though the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is still causing havoc (the non-Halloween kind) with trick-or-treat plans, that is unlikely to dampen the holiday spirit.
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But whether you’re keeping your traditional trick-or-treating plans, participating in a socially distanced event, or keeping your Halloween plans to a minimum this year, it’s important to remember that not all masks are created equal.
Yes, in a time when masks are required in many places to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, your Halloween mask probably won’t cut it on its own.
So how can you prepare to celebrate responsibly? We turned to infectious disease expert Kristin Englund, MD, for advice.
The effectiveness of masks
Even though vaccines are available, it hasn’t been approved for children under the age of 12 and there’s still a large part of the country that is unvaccinated. Wearing a mask not only protects you but those around you.
It’s important to remember that there’s a wide range in terms of the effectiveness of masks preventing the spread of the coronavirus. While covering your face in a spooky mask may seem like the same thing as covering your face with a cloth or surgical mask, that’s actually not the case.
“It’s still going to be very important for us to make sure we’re protecting our children, and that includes wearing double-layered cloth masks that fit well or surgical masks, instead of the less-protective Halloween mask,” she says.
Make sure your cloth or surgical masks completely covers your nose and mouth. These masks catch the respiratory droplets you expel that can carry the virus and block you from taking in someone else’s droplets.
Halloween masks typically have holes for your nose or mouth, making them less effective at stopping the spread of those droplets.
Adapt your costume
So how can you keep your costume plans and be safe? The easiest solution, Dr. Englund says, is to use a proper mask for protection and make it part of your costume. “Try to make your mask part of the costume by finding a mask that matches your outfit or by making your own.”
This can be a key part for kids, too, with a costume that already incorporates a mask, like a doctor or a mask with a pumpkin or skeleton design. It can also be a way to encourage them to be a part of the creative process with their costume.
And if you’re really dedicated to the cause and think maybe you could combine both a protective mask and a costume mask, Dr. Englund suggests you can try but it may not be the best idea.
“To put a costume mask over a mask you’re wearing to protect against the spread of COIVD-19 is probably going to be a tough, possibly uncomfortable fit,” she says. “And while you shouldn’t have any issues breathing with just a cloth mask, costume masks are often a different story and doubling up could create some issues.”
Whatever your celebration choice is this Halloween, be sure to check what guidelines your city or town already has in place. If cases are once again climbing, there may be certain rules or scheduled events newly announced that impact trick-or-treating.
Dr. Englund also suggests that parents ask some questions before deciding to attend a Halloween event. Questions can include finding out about the setting (indoors or outdoors), the food (buffet-style or individual portions) and any vaccination requirements for adults.
“Those are very reasonable questions for us to be asking when you’re going to a party,” she says.