By MARSHA MERCER
Americans are going out this Halloween. All out.
Rising in yards and at homes to haunt – and delight – us are a host of ghosts, wealth of witches, bevy of bats and bones, surplus of spiders, skeletons and skulls, and a trove of tombstones.
We’re getting our costumes and pets’ costumes ready. We’re going to parties again. And, we’re spending.
Halloween-related spending is expected to reach an all-time high of $10.14 billion this year, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey.
On average, consumers plan to spend $102.74 on costumes, candy, decorations and greeting cards -- $10 more than last year.
Last year, with COVID-19 raging and no vaccine available, most communities gave Halloween a wide berth. This year, with millions of us fully vaccinated, receiving booster shots and having recovered from COVID-19, the government invites Americans to enjoy Halloween.
“I would say, put on those costumes, stay outside and enjoy your trick-or-treating,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control, said on Fox News Sunday.
Having been scared for real for so long, we’re evidently ready to enjoy being scared for fun. Spooky is not so spooky.
Dr. Walensky did, however, offer a cautionary note: If you’re unvaccinated, you still need to protect yourself and others.
“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.”
The infection rate has dropped 50% since September in the United States, but that doesn’t mean the pandemic is over. More than 70,000 COVID-19 cases and about 1,500 deaths are still being reported each day. We have lost more than 740,000 people to the disease.
Even with COVID sticking around, we all yearn to get back to normal. And yet there’s a nagging doubt we may be, Halloween notwithstanding, whistling past the graveyard.
Much remains unknown about the insidious coronavirus. A new, highly contagious delta subvariant known as “delta plus” or AY.4.2 is surging in Great Britain, and the United Kingdom’s science adviser predicts “a pretty difficult winter ahead of us.”
Delta plus is believed to spread more easily than the delta variant but to cause no more serious illness. Vaccinations are effective in reducing severity of disease, authorities say.
So far, delta plus makes up only one-tenth of a percent of the COVID cases here. Some localities are easing mask and other restrictions.
But around the world, countries that thought their high vaccination rates would allow life to return to normal have been hit with outbreaks. After a spike in cases, Singapore last week extended some restrictions until next month, reimposing a limit of parties of two people dining out.
Russia, which reportedly set a new daily record for cases this week, has closed schools and is shutting down workplaces nationwide for a week. Only essential stores like pharmacies and groceries are allowed open.
Some cities in China have also tightened rules on activities as cases have risen.
No one wants to reinstate lockdowns here, and some states vow to stay open no matter what. So, how do we live with COVID?
The best path to a new normal is vaccinations, and yet more than 60 million of us still refuse. They need to wear masks in public indoor settings, CDC says, although resisters probably resist that precaution as well.
Other tips: Those who are fully vaccinated still should wear a mask in public indoor settings in communities with substantial to high transmission rates or if someone in their household is more susceptible to illness.
Outdoor activities are safer than those indoors, and we should all avoid crowded, poorly ventilated spaces.
Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu shot, with rare exceptions. Those who are unvaccinated against COVID should particularly get a flu shot. And, no, the flu vaccine cannot cause the flu.
As we head into the holidays, each of us can, and should, do our part to make our world a little safer. Give friends and family members peace of mind with vaccinations and, if applicable, a booster.
And mask up. They’re not just for Halloween.
©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.