How to Handle Halloween During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A family medicine physician talks redefining trick-or-treating, safe alternatives and shares how she plans on celebrating with her own child.

What would Halloween be without children donned in their favorite character’s apparel—living as a princess, superhero, or villain, even just for a few hours—and demanding candy from their neighbors?

As Halloween festivities face cancellations across the country, people will have to get creative if they want to stay safe and spooky this October.

What’s the deal with trick-or-treating?

The good news is trick-or-treating doesn’t have to be taken off the table completely; it just has to be redefined for life during a pandemic, says family medicine physician Dr. Karen Dong.

Dr. Karen Dong headshot

Dr. Karen Dong

The danger of trick-or-treating during COVID-19 comes primarily from the large number of people who pass through the same area (someone’s doorstep/front porch), explains Dr. Dong. “It’s not just a few people; in some neighborhoods, it could be hundreds. The touch contact involved in handing and grabbing the candy also poses a slight risk.”

For towns that are still permitted to do so, Dr. Dong says new, one-way styles of trick-or-treating may be the safest bet. This could involve hanging individual treats from a clothesline; taping them to popsicle sticks and poking them in the ground, or simply leaving a bucket outside for “self-serve”—the options are endless.

Of course, these methods should still adhere to the usual safety precautions. “Those putting together treats should ensure their hands are thoroughly washed beforehand and that they’re not exhibiting any suspicious symptoms,” explained Dr. Dong. “Those walking around the neighborhood should keep their masks on; maintain at least six feet of distance from those outside their household, and wash their hands before digging into any of the candy!”

Are there safer alternatives?

There are many other festive alternatives categorized as moderate risk, such as pumpkin patch or apple orchard outings; outdoor haunted experiences; socially distanced costume parades; and small, outdoor gatherings.

Dr. Dong notes that if food is involved in an outdoor gathering, aim to provide pre-packaged foods or have people bring their own treats and avoid setting up a buffet-style table. When you eat, you should move farther than six feet away from those outside your household.

Of course, before making any plans you should evaluate your own personal risk. Do you have a chronic condition that increases your risk for more severe symptoms if COVID-19 is contracted? Do you take care of any loved ones at high risk?

If yes, you should seriously consider only low risk, at-home alternatives this year, urges Dr. Dong. Many sources have suggested pumpkin carving or decorating contests; virtual costume contests; candy scavenger hunts; or family movie marathons.

How can you talk to your children about it?

“It may seem disappointing, but you have to reflect on what we’ve been through as a nation since March,” continued Dr. Dong. Parents should try to set expectations earlier, rather than later. Let your children know that Halloween will look a little different this year.

“With your school-aged kids, try to discuss the need to protect others in your community and ensure them that holidays can still happen—just while continuing the work everyone has done to contain the virus already,” said Dr. Dong.

Child's basket with sweets and protective face mask on Halloween

What should you avoid?

Other popular activities, such as trunk-or-treats, crowded costume parties, or indoor haunted houses, are defined as high-risk by the CDC and should be avoided.

“The fact of the matter is they involve too many people congregated in close quarters,” said Dr. Dong. “It’s really hard to make these kinds of activities safe.”

This recommendation stands even more so for parties that involve a lot of young adults drinking, adds Dr. Dong. This is an entirely different ballgame and one of the biggest concerns in terms of COVID-19 spread. Parents should educate, advise, and try to persuade their children as much as possible to avoid these kinds of environments.

What’s better to wear—a surgical mask, a Halloween mask, or both?

If you do decide to go trick-or-treating or attend an outdoor costume contest, keep in mind that wearing a costume mask alone won’t do much good. Air can still escape around the sides with the potential to spread illness.

“Medically, it is safe to wear a surgical mask underneath your festive one, but if you feel this may become uncomfortable, consider decorating a surgical mask to match your Halloween getup,” said Dr. Dong.

What are you doing for Halloween?

“I’m lucky that my son is only three, so he doesn’t know the difference between this year and years prior,” said Dr. Dong. “We have a blue kitty costume for him, and we plan to walk around the neighborhood to admire the Halloween decorations. However, we will avoid streets if they appear too busy and only grab candy if we can social distance.”

Don’t let the pandemic put you in scary situations this Halloween. Remember to avoid what is high risk and opt for some safer options. Adults and children—and ghouls and goblins—alike can still be excited and engaged in the holiday.

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COVID-19, Healthy You

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