Preparing for a second holiday season of the COVID pandemic might make you feel like you're in a horror film, but it's all too real.
While COVID restrictions and our understanding of the virus have changed significantly since this time last year, when families let their imaginations run wild with ways to hand out candy from a distance, there are still some precautions to keep in mind this year.
As part of a new weekly series, "COVID Q&A," NBC10 Boston asked two top Boston doctors on Tuesday for their advice on how to approach Halloween and the holiday season in the safest way possible.
Should I Take My Kids Trick-or-Treating?
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Experts say yes, you can take your kids trick-or-treating, but there are some caveats.
"I'm really a fan of any outdoor activities for unvaccinated children and I don't even recommend a mask outdoors, unless it's a ghost mask," Dr. Shira Doron of Tufts Medical Center said, with a chuckle. "I think trick-or-treating is a great, safe activity this season."
Late last month, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky also recommended trick-or-treating outside, but urged people to avoid crowds and packed Halloween parties.
Boston Medical Center's Dr. Davidson Hamer agreed with that recommendation.
"Unless there's an indoor party or something. I think that going house to house, being outside -- the risk is pretty much non-existent in that context," he said.
How Should We Handle the Holidays?
The CDC created some confusion around holiday gatherings earlier this month when it removed guidance for people from its website. The national public health agency initially recommended virtual or outdoor gatherings for the holidays.
"The holiday guidance from the CDC was hard to interpret because, increasingly, different parts of the country are just looking so different at any moment in time," Doron said. "So any blanket guidance really has to be taken with a grain of salt."
She said that people should base their response on what's happening within their communities or travel destinations and on any other risk factors specific to their family members, including vaccination status.
"All of those things make an enormous difference," Doron said. "If you're not vaccinated, the delta variant is extremely contagious and it's not safe for you to be traveling and it's not safe for you to be gathering in large groups, especially with other unvaccinated people, so get vaccinated."
In Massachusetts, the highly contagious delta variant continues to dominate cases, as reports of breakthrough infections continue to grow -- though only a small percentage of all vaccinated people have become infected.
Doron called the guideline change "surprising."
People should put the risk into context, she said, emphasizing that the most important key to gathering for the holidays is vaccinations.
"When I talk to vaccinated people about what they should do, and I get asked this multiple times a day, 'Should I let my children go trick or treating? Should I be planning a smaller or larger Thanksgiving? Should I be traveling over the holidays?' You know, my answer these days really is, when you're vaccinated, you're very well protected," Doron said.
Despite a surge of different variants, faith among Boston-based doctors in the efficacy of COVID vaccines hasn't wavered.
Does Vaccine Efficacy Last After 6 Months?
A new study published Monday shows that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine's efficacy wanes dramatically over time, falling from 88% protection in the first month to just 47% at five to six months. Vaccine effectiveness against the delta variant was 93% during the first month and declined to 67% at four to five months.
However, people fully vaccinated through Pfizer still retained a 90% protection against hospitalization from COVID after six months.
"No, we're not as well protected against mild COVID-19 as we were six months ago," Doron said. "But you have to apply your own risk tolerance and the setting and the situation that you are planning to walk into, and I can't answer that for everybody, but I can just help them understand what the levels of risk are."
Hamer noted that the elderly, people with compromised immune systems and underlying medical conditions should take additional care when it comes to weighing that level of risk this holiday season.
"Having everybody vaccinated is sort of the starting point," Hamer said. "But for families that really want to be extra cautious, rapid tests for gatherings is an additional possibility."