Oct. 25, 2021 -- Families can celebrate Halloween this year amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Rochelle Walensky, MD, director of the CDC, said Sunday.
The CDC updated its guidelines for holiday celebrations earlier this month, encouraging families to consider safe ways to gather and reduce the spread of the coronavirus by getting vaccinated, attending outdoor events, and wearing masks.
“I would say put on those costumes, stay outside, and enjoy your trick-or-treating,” Walensky said on Fox News Sunday.
But Walenksy also urged “prevention strategies” due to the ongoing potential for COVID-19 to spread during holiday gatherings. The infection rate from the contagious Delta variants has dropped by 50% since September, she said, but more than 70,000 cases and 1,500 deaths are still being reported each day.
“I wouldn’t gather in large settings outside and do screaming like you are seeing in those football games if you are unvaccinated, those kids that are unvaccinated,” she said. “But if you are spread out doing your trick-or-treating, that should be very safe for your children.”
Looking ahead to other upcoming holidays in November and December, Walensky gave similar advice. She encouraged everyone to get vaccinated, both to protect themselves and family members such as children who aren’t yet eligible to be vaccinated and older relatives who may face higher risks for severe disease.
Walensky noted that outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities. She also said that multiple households can gather, though it’s important to ensure that as many people are vaccinated as possible to protect vulnerable individuals who may not be vaccinated.
“It’s critically important that we gather, that we be together with family and friends during these holidays,” she said. “And we have the prevention strategies that we know work to be safe for those holidays.”
Walensky on Sunday also said the CDC is “very carefully” watching a mutated form of the Delta variant called “Delta plus.” The U.K. is reporting an increasing number of cases of the Delta subvariant.
“We absolutely are following the genomic sequencing of this very carefully,” she said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “We have had a handful of cases here in the United States, but it has not taken off as it has in the U.K.”
The subvariant, also known as AY.4.2, makes up 0.1% of cases in the U.S., according to the latest data from the CDC. It’s not yet clear whether the subvariant is more transmissible than the Delta variant, though cases in the U.K. have been growing at a rate that may suggest that it’s more contagious than Delta.
Despite the growth of the subvariant elsewhere, Walensky said the CDC doesn’t anticipate changes in flights from Europe or U.K. The travel ban that affects most visitors will be lifted on Nov. 8 for those who are fully vaccinated.
“We’re absolutely following the science very, very carefully, but we are not anticipating or looking into that right now,” she said.