Column: I don’t understand the rules of the Halloween pandemic

I live on one of those streets of LA that kids and their families from all over town come to for a trick or treating. On a typical Halloween, we buy a few hundred dollars worth of candy and we have a non-stop queue at our door from 6pm to 9am.

We’re sitting outside, it feels like Times Square on New Years Eve. Sometimes the crowds are so big that we become like assembly line workers, machine-distributing the contents of one bag after the other to everyone who appears in front of us: witches, spider-men, replacement Donald Trumps, bloody corpses with knives in their heads, little ones Snow white.

But this year I don’t know what to do.

Will there be a big Halloween turnout or will people stay home?

When they come, should we be there for them or turn out our lights and guiltily hide inside? Will our neighbors give out sweets or abstain?

On the one hand, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said it was okay to do trick or treating this year. “Go out there and enjoy Halloween,” he said.

On the other hand, Dr. Fauci has never been on my street where it seems impossible for us to follow this year’s guide. Maintain social distance, say the experts. Avoid “clusters that are too tight”. Instead of putting all of their hands in one large bowl filled with candy, set up individual packages for the children. Attend “small gatherings”.

That’s just not likely in my neighborhood.

However, my point is not really Halloween, but the moment we are living through. One of the things I find most worrying about this stage of the 19-month-old pandemic is that the rules no longer seem clear. In 2020 we were much more locked up, much less free to do what we wanted – but at least we knew what was being asked of us in the name of health and safety and how to do it.

We stayed home for the most part last year. We have only socialized within our bubbles. We wore masks when we absolutely needed to be with other people inside. Whenever possible, we kept a social distance of two meters.

There was no vaccine so we didn’t mess around.

And when Halloween came my wife and I didn’t buy any candy or open our doors – but that didn’t matter because no one showed up. Angelenos got the crystal clear message: Don’t even try.

Last year it was lonely for sure, and I’m glad it was over. But I am confused by the unclear ambiguity of what has happened since then.

Today, at least to me, it is not entirely clear what is safe and what is not. Different cities have different rules; Politicians contradict each other; Republicans and Democrats send conflicting messages. Schools work according to different guidelines. Some parishes have mandates; others even forbid mandates.

As for the individual, everyone seems to think that their own approach to pandemic safety is the right one and that everyone else is either wildly negligent or unnecessarily fearful.

I am annoyed. Two Pfizer shots, no booster. Last injection six months ago. I am 62 years old. So can I eat with other people inside? Without mask? In a crowded restaurant? Some of my friends do; others don’t.

Do I have to worry if the guy next to me isn’t wearing a mask on the plane? I was worried when it happened to me – but when I wrote about it, a lot of people insisted I overreacted hysterically.

Can I hug my friends or shake hands with them when I meet them on the street? Nowadays I do it sometimes and sometimes not depending on, well, on nothing really. Maybe I should ask to see their vaccination cards first!

I feel protected by my own vaccination, but only to a certain extent. In Los Angeles County alone, 63,000 people tested positive for the coronavirus despite being fully vaccinated, according to the LA County Department of Public Health. That’s a fraction of the total number of cases (unvaccinated people are almost seven times more likely to be infected and 23 times more likely to be hospitalized), but it’s enough to keep me on guard.

Maybe I should relax and enjoy Fauci style Halloween since I am immunized. But my gut tells me it’s wrong to have face-to-face contact with 500 or 1,000 children in a single evening – most of them unvaccinated because they’re under 12. It’s not just wrong for me; it is wrong for them too.

Frankenstein masks and Incredible Hulk masks won’t protect either of us.

At the end of the day, I think the only real rule is this: find out for yourself. Don’t do anything stupid, only take calculated risks and protect yourself as best you can while allowing yourself a little leniency.

But on Halloween I either have to open the doors or keep them closed. And I’m not sure which one it will be yet.


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