Trick-or-treating gets go ahead from KFL&A Public Health

Dr. Kieran Moore, Medical Officer of Health for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health addresses the media regarding Halloween trick or treating via a Skype call on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020.

Thanks to the continued diligence of our community, KFL&A has returned to a green status level of COVID-19 cases. This has prompted Public Health to release a statement regarding trick-or-treating in the region this Halloween.

The green community status level indicates that active positive cases are rare, no active outbreaks, local hospital capacity, quick case and contact follow-up, and full testing capacity, according to a release from Public Health on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020.

“We will continue to see undulations (smooth fluctuations) in the number of cases until there is a vaccine,” said Dr. Moore. “This is the best scenario, and it speaks to how our community is working together to minimize the spread of COVID-19. We will get through this and what comes next together.”

As we all pull together to find creative and effective solutions in this fight, Dr. Moore’s advice for this Halloween is to take extra precautions and to follow these public health measures to keep yourself and your families safe:

  • Avoid gatherings with people outside of your household.
  • Stay home if you are feeling ill and do not hand out candy to trick or treaters.
  • Only go out with members of your household.
  • Do not go into homes to collect treats – stay outside.
  • Both children trick or treating and people handing out candy should wear a face covering. A costume mask is not a substitute for a face covering and should not be worn over a face covering as it may make it difficult to breathe.
  • Do not congregate or linger at doorsteps and remember to line up two metres apart if waiting.
  • Avoid touching high-touch surfaces and objects (e.g., doorbells, railings, etc.).
  • Whether collecting or handing out treats, wash your hands often and thoroughly, or use hand sanitizer.
  • Do not leave treats in a bucket or bowl for children to grab and consider using tongs or other similar tools to hand out treats.
  • Drive safely – children may cross the street without checking for oncoming traffic.

“Be kind and respectful this Halloween as not everyone may feel safe interacting with trick or treaters this year,” said Dr. Moore. “I am confident that we can trick or treat safely in our community, for those who choose to take part this Halloween.”

The Ministry of Health announced on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020 that all Ontarians should take extra precautions to stay safe this Halloween and discouraged traditional door-to-door trick or treating in regions that are currently in modified stage 2 in Ontario (i.e., Ottawa, Peel, Toronto, and York). For all individuals outside of these regions, the province recommended that you follow the guidance from your local public health agency.

Dr. Moore explained why some neighbouring regions’ Public Health Units may not be supporting the idea of trick or treating, particularly in the Hastings-Prince Edward region where Public Health has already said they aren’t supporting tick or treating.

“I don’t follow their epidemiology, I can really only speak to KFL&A. We’ve been following our cases very closely. We have six active cases, two new today, and they are all travel-related, so two new cases clearly travelled outside of our region, and a group of four individuals had clearly had a contact outside of our region, so we can only find six people that have tested positive for COVID in our community in the last several days,” Moore said. “The trend has been downwards, and I’m very happy to say that we just finished the quarantining of children that were in elementary school and high school settings, and they’re back in classes. As well as the outbreak that we had at Fairmount, that one healthcare worker was finalized today.”

“So with all these events coming to an end, with all having negative testing, no transmission, no transmission in long-term care facilities, and the last six cases clearly all having a risk of travel outside of our region, we feel very comfortable in KFL&A that there’s limited community spread,” he continued. “And as a result of that, I think our community should benefit from the opportunity for trick or treating on Halloween.”

Why is halloween important to celebrate?

Moore expressed that, given that trick or treating can take place outdoors where the risk of transmission of COVID-19 is far lower than indoors, it is something that can take place to allow children a taste of life before the pandemic.

“It’s important that children still have some sense of normality. We know their lives have been changed, and we know their schools were closed, we know their summer was different, and I think the children in our community deserve it,” Moore said, noting that trick or treating is a chance to get outdoors a chance to stay within your family unit, and an opportunity to create family memories.

“Heading into the winter, we don’t know what the winter brings as we go indoors to crowed spaces and closer faces, and so now is a real time to get back and celebrate a traditional event,” he said, also suggesting outings like apple picking or going to a pumpkin patch as family-friendly, low-risk events to participate in on Halloween weekend.

Low risk of fomite spread

Moore also said the low risk of fomite spread of COVID-19 (through surfaces, particularly candy wrappers) also was a factor in the decision. When asked if parents need to take extra precautions, such as quarantining their children’s candy for a few days after trick or treating, he said he didn’t think it was necessary.

“I think the precautions that we’ve recommended about serving the candy – and it should be wrapped candy – with tongs, when you’re getting them out of a sealed box, they would have had minimal human contact, and then using tongs, or some other mechanism to separate yourself from others, but also minimize hand contact – all of those will really decrease the very, very, very small risk of transmission of virus on the container of food,” he said.  “But with our low risk of community spread, it’s an exceptionally low risk and the precautions we’ve recommended should make it an even more exceptionally low risk.”

So much so that Moore himself, who proudly admitted he has not left the KFL&A region in the past nine months, will be participating in the traditional passing out of candy on Halloween.

“Oh, yes! I’ll be handing out candy. I’ve been thinking about it, I haven’t figure out how to do it, I like the idea of chute, but I was going to basically open up my garage door and sit in my garage with the bowl of candy – open the box, pour the candy into the bowl – and then use tongs to hand it out, or a hockey stick—put the candy on the hockey stick and hand it out to the child on the hockey stick,” he said, noting that he will be wearing a mask while he does so, and washing his hands frequently. Also, sitting in his garage means children won’t have to walk up to his door and ring the bell, which helps lower the already low risk of transmission, Moore explained.

“I love watching the kids, I love watching the costumes, and meeting families from the neighbourhood, so I very much look forward to it, even though my kids have long grown up!”

Moore reiterates pride in community, need to support local

When asked why Kingston is doing so well in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, Moore immediately took the opportunity to thank the community for their hard work and sacrifice.

“I do think that we have a wonderful community, they do follow rules, they are observing best practices of physical distancing, good hand hygiene, staying home if you’re sick, getting tested,” he said, again noting the importance of staying within the region.

“Rates of infection in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal are so much higher than ours. Why not enjoy the benefits of KFL&A?” he continued.

Moore noted the importance that those in the region continue to work to protect our most vulnerable populations, and thanked the community for the sacrifices they’ve made, particularly over thanksgiving, which had an insignificant impact on the region in terms of the virus.

“It’s my goal, together with our community to stay open, to not go back to phase 2, and stay local, support local, support your local businesses and restaurants, and take advantage that we have one of the lowest rates of COVID-19 in our community of any place in Ontario,” he said. “And that’s a tribute to the hard work of our community that have endorsed these best practices. I’m very, very proud of our community. And you have to know that all of our health system partners are as proud, as well.”

To that end, Moore took the opportunity to end the press conference on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020 with a note about supporting our local businesses.

“I was on a call today discussing the impact this pandemic has had on local businesses, and they are hurting. Please, get out in our community, where we know the risk is low, and support local business and restaurants, as much as you are comfortable to do so,” he said.

With files from Jessica Foley.

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