Halloween safety: law enforcement and health officials weigh in with tips

halloween-safety:-law-enforcement-and-health-officials-weigh-in-with-tips

It’s always a good idea to cross-check Trick-Or-Treat plans with an online crime map and the sex offender registry.

ATLANTA — Last year the CDC recommended no one trick-or-treat, saying it was too dangerous amid the rampant spread of COVID-19. Now in 2021, top health and safety officials are giving Halloween the festivities the green light, with the right precautions. 

“Particularly if you’re vaccinated, you can get out there you’re outdoors for the most part…and enjoy it,” said NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci.

11Alive asked both health and public safety officials for tips on keeping your families safe this Halloween.

Health

Dr. Andrew Doyle, a pediatrician with Wellstar Health System in Marietta, said parents should still follow Covid-19 precautions.

“We still encourage masking,” he said. “We still encourage keeping things separate and socially distanced as much as possible. Limiting who’s handing out the candy and having lots of hand sanitizer around. Wiping the wrappers down. Set up outside so you can kind of regulate the flow and people can be even more spread out.”

Wellstar said they encourage people to stay “SPOOKY” this Halloween:

S SANITIZE often and thoroughly. Have your kids wash their hands before heading out, then bring along sanitizer and use it frequently while trick-or-treating. Sanitize candy wrappers when you get home and remind them of safety measures that can help keep everyone COVID-free. If children are visiting your home for “Grab-n-Go” treats, keep hand sanitizer handy, too.

P PHYSICAL DISTANCING is still highly recommended by the CDC. Whether trick-or-treating at a front door or hanging around food and drink at a party, large group gatherings should be avoided as much as possible. Six feet is still recommended but use your own judgment when around those who have – or haven’t – been fully vaccinated.

O OUTDOORS is the best way to celebrate Halloween, weather permitting. Being outside promotes airflow and helps minimize close contact with others. If guests are coming to your home for Halloween, consider sitting outside. If you’re planning to make “Grab-n-Go” treats (it’s a great idea, by the way) space the bags out for added safety. Reminder: being outdoors doesn’t give you a free pass to disregard taking sensible precautions.

O OBSERVE the small trick-or-treaters. Kids will be kids and won’t always stick to the safety guidelines, so keeping an eye on them and making sure that children have access to face masks and other layers of protection will make Halloween safe and fun.

K KIDS having fun and creating positive childhood memories is what Halloween is all about. Try to follow the recommended guidelines to avoid or minimize COVID exposure, while creating something fun and easy to do.

Y YOUR JUDGEMENT is key to making good and healthy decisions and minimizing COVID-19 exposure. In addition to wearing masks and getting vaccinated, take additional safety precautions such as washing your hands.

Safety

Doug Parsi is director of training at SafeDefend, and former police captain of 20 years. He said child injuries are some of the most common calls on Halloween. 

“There are situations that happen where kids get hurt,” he said. “Make your kids visible. You can just run to the dollar store and buy some of those bracelets or other things that glow in the dark or light up.”

Parsi also said it’s a good idea to do some internet research on your neighborhood before Trick or Treating.

“Every county in the United States has a sexual [offender] registry,” he said. “You do need to check those annually.”

“The other thing most communities have is some sort of police blotter,” Parsi said. “You just want to look at that and make sure that there isn’t a house that somehow the same address comes up two or three times.”

Additional tips from SafeDefend: 

  • Your phone can be a great lifeline to your child. If your children have a phone, they should have it on them as they head out. 
  • The phone should be fully charged and in low battery mode so it doesn’t drain from things like leaving a flashlight feature on.
  • If older kids are venturing out together, parents should have all the kids as contacts in their personal phones.  There is a feature that allows location to be shared on a 24-hour basis.  If your child’s phone is turned off, you can still track the other kids’ location.
  • Visibility is crucial – kids don’t want to carry a flashlight, but glow sticks are a fantastic way to enhance costumes (and safety measures).  
  • There are 8-hour glow sticks that can be worn around the neck with a Velcro release to hang on the child’s back that won’t interfere with the costume.
  •  You can purchase glow-in-the-dark sprays for the hair or markers for the face that make them stand out as well.
  • Choose costumes that don’t prevent a hazard
  • Make sure costumes aren’t too big. Recycling costumes is common but ill-fitting ones can be a problem. Long pants, poor eyesight in a mask, and flowing capes can cause issues with running children.
  • Coordinate with other parents so all the kids have the same freedom of movement.  Having a group of kids with different maneuverability will cause issues of them sticking together.
  • Talk to your kids in advance about the safety rules while walking around the neighborhood
  • No approaching houses with lights out
  • Stick to neighborhoods you know
  • Cross streets at intersections.  No crisscrossing to houses.
  • Respect peoples landscaping.  Stick to the walkways
  • Generally, it starts at 6:00 p.m. and should end by 8:00 p.m. (end time varies by community/enthusiasm of neighborhood)
  • Parents need to prepare in advance
  • Coordinate with other parents to make sure children under 11 are being chaperoned.
  • Every county in the country has a sexual predator registry.  Before the 31st, you should confirm there are none of these houses near you.  This must be done every year as new entries are made into the system.
  • Check the police blotter websites to make sure there aren’t any houses that have frequent police calls.
  • Use your neighborhood website to communicate concerns that should be shared.  Potholes, sinkholes, fencing issues, other obstructions that need to be communicated about your property to others.

Here are additional things you need to know about protecting your personal space, according to Parsi:

  • Learn to use your phone’s safety features – Phones are the best tool we have for safety.  Communicating in a crisis is paramount.  What most people don’t know is that phone manufacturers have made it easy to call for help.  Go online and type in your phone model with the words ‘safety features’.  You’ll find that you don’t need to dial 911 in a crisis.  By simply learning your phone’s features, you can instantly contact emergency services.  More importantly, your phone can also send your location to dispatch centers and your emergency contacts simultaneously. 
  • Keep your strong hand empty – Having a strong hand that is free can help if someone approaches you.  Carry your mobile phone in your weak hand or pocket.  If you know the safety activation feature, you will be able to signal for help using the weak hand.  You want the strong side of your body unencumbered by purses, backpacks, or briefcases.  This isn’t natural, but with repetition will become more comfortable.  Pushing, striking, opening doors, etc. are things we tend to do with our strong hand.  Attempting to adjust to using the weak hand in a crisis will lead to a delayed counteraction or failure. 
  • Be smart when approaching your car – Be careful when unlocking your car.  Most cars only unlock the driver’s door with the first click.  Multiple clicks unlock all the doors.  The design is intended to prevent someone from entering your vehicle on the passenger side while you are unaware.  Just as important, make sure you are only a few feet away when you click the button. Also, where you park is important.  You should always park so that the door you have just exited gives you a view of the passenger side of the car.  If you approach from the driver’s side, you never look at what is on the opposite side.  By parking appropriately, you can scan for objects around the vehicle. 
  • Get a tactical flashlight – Bad things happen in the dark.  It’s always encouraged to park near lights and only walk on well-lit streets.  A solution: take light with you.  Tactical flashlights have a strobe feature that is disorienting to an attacker.  In a crisis, the push of a button will illuminate a strobe light that temporarily overwhelms the person it is directed at and causes retina burns which limit visibility.  Doing this gives you an opportunity for you to act without them seeing what you are doing.  That small head start can make the difference for your escape.
  • Invest in a trauma pack – Every major retailer and online vendor has affordable trauma kits.  We have become so dependent on the quick response by EMTs we have taken away personal responsibility.  The Department of Homeland Security has a Stop The Bleed program that empowers civilians to prepare for such emergencies. (https://www.dhs.gov/stopthebleed)
  • Be prepared to protect yourself –Whether it is an unwelcome person at your home door, a confrontation in a parking lot, an altercation in a store, or an aggressive driver on the highway, you should always create options for yourself.  If you have considered certain ‘possibilities’, you can formulate a plan of action in your mind.  A predetermined course of action saves time in a crisis.  If you have already thought about what you would do, then you can just act. 

If you’re wary of handing out candy, the experts say something like tongs, or even making a candy slide out of PVC pipe, could give you some comfortable distance.

It’s also a good time to remind people that colored pumpkins at someone’s door could mean something.

Teal pumpkins are often set out to let you know that the house has allergy-friendly options.

Purple pumpkins indicate epilepsy awareness…someone inside may be medically triggered by flashing lights.

And if you see a child carrying a blue pumpkin bucket to collect candy, it may signify that child is on the autism spectrum.

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