Halloween is a time when children look forward to ringing doorbells and grabbing candy out of bowls, however, this year is throwing a boogeyman into the usual usual trick-or-treating activities: the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response to the upcoming Halloween holiday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a list of minimal- to high-risk Halloween activities. Because the nature of trick-or-treating involves a lot of close contact with friends and neighbors, the CDC listed it as a high-risk activity that should be avoided. Still, while running from door to door for candy might be off the table this year, there are many safe and creative ways to celebrate Halloween during the pandemic.
CDC Warns of COVID-19 Boogeyman This Halloween
Unfortunately, many traditional Halloween celebrations are considered risky in terms of viral spread. The Halloween activities the CDC deems the riskiest include:
- Traditional trick-or-treating, in which kids go door to door and are handed candy and treats
- Trunk-or-treat, in which treats and candy are distributed from trunks of cars and beds of trucks lined up in parking lots
- Visiting indoor haunted houses and indoor costume parties, which can lead to crowded conditions and a great deal of screaming
- Participation in hayrides or tractor rides with others who are not in the same household
The concern with the above activities is that they involve gathering large crowds where social distancing may not be possible, and the possibility of droplet transmission from yelling and screaming. Adding to the concern is small children who might rub their eyes or put their fingers in their noses or mouths after touching various strange surfaces during trick-or-treat activities or parties.
Of less concern, but still mentioned by experts, is the handling and distribution of candy. "I would recommend avoiding large pots of candy, as you'll have too many grubby fingers in one place," advised Gregory Charlop, a Southern California physician and author.
Do Experts Agree With the CDC?
Because the CDC guidelines are open to interpretation, many experts are divided on appropriate Halloween safety. The CDC is emphatic that traditional trick-or-treating is high risk. Dyan Hes, Medical Director and Founder of Gramercy Pediatrics in New York, NY, is also vehemently against it. "I think it would be too risky," he said. "Kids would naturally form large groups, and no one knows the health status of the people in each home. I would say a hard pass, for now."
But Kara Capriotti, Mohs Surgeon at Bryn Mawr Skin and Cancer Institute, and founding partner with Halodine, disagrees. She believes trick-or-treating can be done safely, as long as masks are worn, kids travel in smaller groups and candy is delivered through touch-free methods. Also, "don't let kids eat candy as they trick-or-treat," she said. "Take it home, and quarantine it for several days."
The same disagreements seem to arise when it comes to other popular outdoor Halloween activities. The CDC considers hayrides a high-risk activity, however, the agency is more lenient when it comes to pumpkin patches, classifying it as "moderate risk," as long as people use hand sanitizer, wear masks and practice social distancing.
But Charlop disagrees. "Pumpkin patches are a bad idea. You have too many kids in close proximity," he said. "They won't be able to socially distance, and they'll touch all the same surfaces."
How to Celebrate Halloween Safely During the Pandemic
The overall takeaway from the CDC guidelines and expert advice is to use common sense when it comes to Halloween activities and minimize involving crowds, a lot of talking or yelling, and a lack of social distancing. If your children absolutely must trick-or-treat this year, do so in smaller groups, at fewer houses, while wearing masks and observing social-distancing guidelines.
Additional minimal-contact ideas for a safe Halloween include:
- Stay in with family. Child psychologist and parenting educator Vanessa Lapointe suggests one way to make this fun and meaningful is to order in a special dinner and watch a favorite Halloween movie as a family.
- Arrange a "contactless" scavenger hunt. This can be set up as a visual holiday decoration hunt, in which children are given a list of Halloween-themed things to look for in their neighborhood. This would require some amount of social distancing and masks, but it could be easier to control than running to neighbors' doors and ringing bells.
- Camp out under the moon. A full moon will be shining on October 31 this year. Weather permitting, you could pitch a tent, look at the moon and tell ghost stories. Another fun fact is that this full moon will be a rare blue moon, the second full moon of October.
- Set up a virtual costume party. Use Zoom, FaceTime, Skype or other virtual methods to host a virtual event, including singalongs, a dance party, costume parties, contests or group chats.
- Seek out "drive-through" Halloween activities. Throughout the United States, many cities, keeping COVID-19 contagion in mind, are hosting contactless events, such as drive-through haunted houses, hayrides and other events.
The Bottom Line
As has been the case for much of 2020, COVID-19 is changing how Halloween is celebrated this year. However, being cautious doesn't mean you can't still have fun. While celebrating Halloween will be different this year, it can still be fun. A host of new ways to celebrate can be created, introduced and enjoyed by family members and close friends. "New traditions can be forged as a result of these strange new limitations," Lapointe said. "They may be the ones that we keep, long after our physical distancing period is over."
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