Opinion: Trick or treat? With COVID, it's still not an easy question

Some residents decided to hold Halloween in their front yard at a home in Bethel, Conn., on Saturday Oct. 31, 2020.

Some residents decided to hold Halloween in their front yard at a home in Bethel, Conn., on Saturday Oct. 31, 2020.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

When’s the last time you answered a doorbell ring?

Heck, when’s the last time your doorbell rang?

If it’s going to chime again on Halloween, it would be nice to have clear, consistent guidance from health, state and local officials.

Ultimately, though, trick-or-treating is a personal choice for people on both sides of the door. Local mandates wouldn’t fly with everyone, but it’s an open-or-shut choice for homeowners.

Few things make an elected official flip-flop as much as making a declaration about Halloween during a pandemic. By nature, politicians prefer to wear the proverbial masks of charming, likable characters (think Disney heroes) rather than monsters (think Disney villains).

A year ago, when canceling Halloween seemed more clear-cut, Gov. Ned Lamont fumbled with some tone-deaf reasoning about the benefits of Halloween masks and autumn gloves. Many local officials didn’t fare any better.

In the end, the chorus of doorbell chimes was pretty dim in most towns a year ago.

Almost 12 months later, health experts still sound as wary of Halloween as dentists. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, whose advice has been sought (or scorned) throughout the pandemic, on Tuesday clarified his earlier comments that it was “too soon” to make a determination about in-person gatherings over the year-end holiday season. Instead, he defaulted to the importance of getting more people vaccinated.

If recent history taught us anything, it’s that COVID numbers move in the wrong direction during the holidays. Halloween is less than four weeks away, and not much has really changed since schools opened a month ago.

At the end of last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sounded more resigned to the reality that parents and children can only be offered advice on best practices if they choose to trick-or-treat.

People in the former category were advised to wear — yes — masks on Halloween, and avoid direct contact by distributing goodies or setting up stations with individually wrapped bags.

Kids were cautioned that costume masks are not a substitute for the cloth variety, and they should avoid compromising breathing by wearing two. The CDC also offered advice about using fans if holding indoor activities.

Like Fauci, though, the agency got some blowback and declared the policies premature on Tuesday. So while these tips make sense, parents should expect updates.

Trick-or-treating has always been a little dicey regarding personal health. After all, it’s all about inviting kids to reach into containers of food during flu season. And until a vaccine is available to them, most of the kids in costumes have not gotten shots.

The clearest direction about celebrating the holiday this year was offered by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. She told “Face the Nation” that it can be done safely, adding, “If you’re able to be outdoors, absolutely.”

So that vaguely familiar sound you hear at month’s end may be your doorbell. It’s still up to you to answer it or not.