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Halloween parties are a COVID risk, but trick-or-treating is OK, KU doctor says

·3 min read

Children’s risk of being exposed to COVID-19 while trick-or-treating this year is “pretty low” because the majority of the traditional Halloween custom takes place outdoors, a doctor at the University of Kansas Health System said during a briefing Monday.

Last year, there was some real concern about trick-or-treating, but health officials advocated for doing it outdoors and believed any exposure was going to be pretty low because it took place at the thresholds of homes.

“We know most of these children are probably hanging out with each other at school or after school and extracurricular things, so really that isn’t too high of a risk,” Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control at The University of Kansas Health System, during a morning medical briefing.

People handing out candy have a very small interaction time, maybe five to 10 seconds, he said. For those who aren’t vaccinated or are immunocompromised, they can protect themselves by wearing a mask or a face shield.

It’s the large Halloween parties that can place people at higher risk to COVID-19.

“We know those are high risk situations especially indoors,” Hawkinson said. “You really can’t control or understand exactly who is vaccinated, who had the infection recently or who is recovering or who could actively have it.”

It’s reasonable to assume that when a large group of people gathers, at least one person probably has COVID-19 or the active infection, he said.

“Although the number of case loads are going down, we do know that putting yourself in those high risk situations can always be a concern,” Hawkinson said.

On Monday, the area encompassing Kansas City and Jackson, Clay and Platte counties in Missouri and Johnson and Wyandotte Counties in Kansas, surpassed more than 200,000 COVID-19 cases.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Kansas City metro area has had a total of 200,105 cases, according to data tracked by The Star.

A total of 3,042 people in the metro area have died from COVID-19.

During the briefing, doctors discussed how to remain safe this Halloween while trick-or-treating, including that the hotline at the Poison Control Center at the University of Kansas Health System received 51 calls, the majority dealing with glowsticks.

“These are fortunately fairly non-toxic but when they break, they have a chemical and then that can cause quite a bit of irritation to the skin and into the eye,” said Dr. Stephen Thorton, medical director of the Poison Control Center.

The chemical can cause a bit of irritation, he said. The treatment is pretty simple: rinse it off or irrigate the eyes out.

Occasionally, someone will try to drink the chemical. Fortunately, they won’t cause a a lot of problems, mainly a bit of an upset stomach, he said.

“We have a saying in the Poison Control Center: ‘Never bet against kids,’” he said. “No matter what you think, they will find a way to eat something, do something, and so they keep us in business.”

The number of calls about dry ice, which some people use to make fog on their drinks also increases. There is a bumb in calls concerning kids drinking alcohol that was left out as well as ingesting medication — kids think medications are candy and they’ll get into them, Thorton said.

If that happens, people shouldn’t hesitate to call the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 to get advice.

“Sometimes the child doesn’t need to go to the emergency room; sometimes the child does,” he said. “We can help give advice in both instances and we can help the hospitals care for the children once they arrive.”

During the holiday, hospital emergency rooms are seeing injuries relating to cosplayers’ costumes that are getting more and more exotic, including makeup that irritates the ski and gets in the eyes. Alcohol-related injuries also are not uncommon.

“When you’re dressed up like Iron Man, you’ve got to be careful what you drink,” Thorton said.

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