How to Have a Safe Halloween During Covid-19
Don't go as a "virus super spreader" this year. Follow these expert Halloween safety tips to keep you and your family safe during Covid-19.
Because of Covid-19, many events that draw large crowds have been canceled or modified. This year, Halloween is no exception.
In California, Los Angeles County was the first to announce it had banned Halloween events with non-household members, including haunted houses and other Halloween activities.
In the list of exceptions and recommendations, the county’s Department of Health also advised against trick-or-treating where social distance can’t be kept, and instead, suggested trunk-or-treating where children go car to car to receive their treats. Other states throughout the country have followed suit with modifications and cancellations due to increasing restrictions.
Halloween safety tips
Chad Sanborn, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at KIDZ Medical Services in Palm Beach, Florida, understands the need to get back to the usual routine, but suggests people should still be cautious during this time.
“I know everyone, including myself, really wants a return to normalcy as soon as possible, especially for our children,” he says. “This coronavirus doesn’t really care what we want though, and we are in the midst of a pandemic. This probably isn’t the best year for the usual Halloween activities, including trick-or-treating, haunted houses, and parties.”
In reality many Americans still want to do something for Halloween, even if it’s not their traditional activities, says William Lang, MD, a family physician, medical director of WorldClinic, former director of the White House Medical Unit, deputy physician to the President, and associate chief medical officer of the Department of Homeland Security.
Indeed, 74 percent of parents with young children say that Halloween is more important than ever this year, according to a poll conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the National Confectioners Association.
“This is why it’s so important to give the public safer options for celebrating Halloween this year,” Dr. Sanborn says. Our health experts share the Halloween safety tips you should know.
Trick-or-treating: In or out?
Donning a costume, knocking on doors, and getting bags full of goodies is a time-honored and much-loved tradition but is it a good idea this year, during the Covid-19 pandemic? To answer this question, you have to look at three factors: Is it necessary? Will it increase viral spread? Will any harm come from canceling it?
While there are some benefits to trick-or-treating—it’s a fun outdoor activity that promotes community bonding—the risks far outweigh the benefits right now, Dr. Lang says.
“Trick-or-treating is not essential and it does increase interaction between people of unknown Covid-19 status to some degree, thereby increasing the risk of community transmission,” he says. “It may not be the most high-risk activity but allowing or encouraging trick-or-treating does not make good sense this year.” (Find out if there will be a second coronavirus wave.)
Evaluate your family’s risks
One of the most important things you should do before deciding your Halloween plans this year is to look at your personal, family, and community risk factors, says Ugo Iroku, MD, a New York City-based physician, public health expert, and faculty member at Mount Sinai Hospital. If you or a family member living with you is in a high-risk group, skip all celebrations outside your home.
In addition, you should look at how your state and town is doing with the coronavirus. “Look up your local positivity rate, the percent of tested people who have the disease,” he says. “If you are in someplace like Vermont, where the positivity rate is in the 0.2 percent range and stable, then you might feel confident and safe with going out trick-or-treating. But if you are in a place like North Dakota, with a positivity rate of around 20 percent, then you should look to see what you can do to celebrate at home.”
How to trick-or-treat safely door-to-door
The safest option is not to trick-or-treat at all, and while he doesn’t recommend it, Dr. Lang says he understands lots of people will probably do it anyway. He’s not wrong: 80 percent of the general public and 90 percent of young parents said they couldn’t imagine Halloween without trick-or-treating, calling it “irreplaceable,” and said they will find a way to do it this year, according to the poll data.
Plus there’s the issue of enforcement. “Trick or treating is an organic, unorganized activity; governments and police would have to be fairly heavy handed to really clamp down on this,” Dr. Lang says.
So, if you’re going to trick-or-treat, there are ways to reduce the risks, he says.
Do a symptom check before heading out
One of the most important Halloween safety tips is to “screen all participants before heading out,” Dr. Lang says. It’s important to know the Covid-19 symptoms to look for. “If anyone has fever or chills, upper respiratory symptoms, loss of taste or smell, a sore throat, or unexplained body aches and pains then you stay home.”
Limit trick-or-treating to kids 10 and under
“This may be difficult but it would be great for communities to encourage trick-or-treating to be kept to younger kids this year,” Dr. Lang says. The primary advantage is that this reduces the overall number of bodies out trick-or-treating and younger kids tend to tire out faster which means they’ll go to fewer houses and return home earlier. “Also, younger kids may not be as effective transmitters as older kids, although the jury is still out on that,” Dr. Lang adds.
Focus on space and speed
“Close contact, defined as being within six feet of someone for more than 15 minutes, with an infected person is what puts you at the highest risk of contracting the illness,” Dr. Iroku says. You need to keep your kids moving quickly and away from other groups, he says. You can even turn it into a game, seeing how quickly they can race from house to house without getting near another group.
Walk in groups that only include members of your household
This isn’t the year to have the neighborhood gang of elementary schoolers running around together, particularly because younger children aren’t great at social distancing, Dr. Lang says. Instead, keep your close group limited to the people you’ve already been quarantining with and keep groups as small as possible, he says.
Practice good social distancing
Groups need to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and stay six feet apart—on sidewalks, in driveways, and especially at doorways, Dr. Lang says. Teach your kids to stand back and wait until the previous group has cleared the area before taking their turn.
Wear a real mask
To be effective, face masks need to fit closely to the face and have several layers and most costume-style masks don’t pass that test, says Donna M. Hallas, a certified pediatric nurse practitioner and a clinical professor and program director for the pediatrics nurse practitioner program at New York University. This year, have your child wear the same type of mask they would to school or to the store and resist adding a costume mask on top of it as that can make it harder to breathe.
Do not enter into anyone’s home
One big advantage of trick-or-treating is that it’s an outdoor activity and there is less risk of viral transmission outdoors. You lose that protection when you go indoors so avoid that completely, Dr. Lang says. Every neighborhood seems to have the house that sets up a haunted house through their garage or has an elaborate display that requires kids to walk into the entry of the home to get candy. Don’t do it.
Bring hand sanitizer and wipes
It’s a good idea to periodically sanitize children’s hands and wipe down handles of bags or buckets, Dr. Sanborn says. “I would recommend bringing hand sanitizer and wipes for the children, particularly if multiple kids are reaching into the candy containers simultaneously,” he says.
How to handle candy safely
If you’re going to hand out candy, make sure to do it in the safest way possible, Dr. Lang says.
Hand out pre-wrapped candy
When Covid-19 first emerged, there was a lot of concern about transmission of the virus through “fomites” or things that pass on germs through being touched. As the science has evolved, it appears that this is far less of a risk than originally thought and the main way the virus spreads is through aerosolized droplets. “Handing out pre-packaged candy does not create a significant Covid-19 risk,” Dr. Lang says, citing the most current Food and Drug Administration update on Covid-19 and food safety. One of the many Halloween safety tips to keep in mind is to skip handing out homemade goodies, like popcorn balls or fudge, as those have a higher risk of being contaminated by many types of germs.
Use tongs, not gloves
Anything you can do to make the process “no touch” is good, Dr. Lang says. “You can use tongs to drop a piece into the child’s bag,” he suggests. Wearing gloves is not particularly helpful and doesn’t provide the protection many people think they do. Therefore, they’re not necessary for either handing out or receiving candy.
Lay treats out on a towel
Another way to minimize contact is to lay out a beach towel on your porch and place pieces of candy or goody bags on the towel, Dr. Iroku says. This allows kids to choose one without touching all the rest. You can sit back and supervise, appreciating their adorable costumes, without getting within the six-foot danger zone.
Wear a mask
All trick-or-treat givers and receivers need to be wearing a well-fitting mask, Dr. Iroku says. Make sure yours is up and properly positioned before opening your door. (Beware of the worst face masks for coronavirus.)
Sanitize frequently touched surfaces
Use sanitizing wipes or spray to periodically wipe down your door bell, door handle, bowl rim, railing, or any other surface that little hands are frequently touching, Dr. Iroku says. And don’t forget to wash or sanitize your own hands as well, he adds.
Quarantine the candy
It’s still not entirely clear how much this virus is spread by contact, but if you want to be on the safer side you can wipe down candy bags before opening them and your kids’ candy packages before letting them have them, Dr. Sanborn says. Another option is to put candy bags aside and wait a few days before enjoying the trick-or-treating candy, which should be enough time for any viruses on the surface to die, he says.
How to have a safer Halloween party
Our experts emphasize that the safest Halloween party is no party at all—one of the most essential safety tips this year is to avoid hosting or attending a Halloween party.
But Dr. Lang admits this too will be hard to control, especially as Halloween falls on a Saturday night this year, which already makes it prime time for parties.
Add on reduced or canceled trick-or-treating and that makes parties even more likely this year, he says. He doesn’t recommend parties, but if you’re going to host or attend one, do it in the safest way possible.
Hold parties outdoors
Outdoor transmission is far less common so keep all guests outside the entire time, Dr. Lang says. Avoid congregating in common areas like a rec room in an apartment complex, he adds. (Here’s how to stop coronavirus spread at home.)
Host a drive through trick-or-treat party
Still want to hand out candy and goodies and see your friends’ costumes? A good compromise may be a drive-through party, Dr. Iroku says. Guests stay in their cars and drive up in front of your house one at a time. You can hand them a pre-made bag through the window.
Safer ideas for celebrating Halloween
“Avoiding large gatherings is the most important thing to keep in mind this year,” says Mollie Grow, MD, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and an associate professor of pediatrics and general pediatrician in the division of general pediatrics at the University of Washington. “There are still plenty of ways to celebrate together as a family.”
Make a fun Halloween treat
If you’re not going out trick-or-treating, you can still ensure your kids get some treats while also having a fun time together. There are hundreds of cute and tasty Halloween food crafts for every age level online. “Let your kids pick the recipes and help plan and prepare the meal or treat you’re making and they won’t feel like they’re missing out on anything,” Dr. Grow says.
Buy the good candy
Every kid knows the houses in the neighborhood that hand out the really good Halloween candy: the full-size candy bars, movie theater boxes, specialty treats, and toys. This year, be that awesome house for your own kids. You’ll save money since you’re not buying bags of treats for the whole neighborhood. (This is the worst Halloween candy for your teeth, according to dentists.)
Enjoy a special Halloween movie night
Pick a funny or scary Halloween movie, pop some popcorn, and snuggle in together, Dr. Grow says.
Do a family game night in costumes
Just because you’re not going out doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy dressing up. Put your costumes on, host a FaceTime or Zoom costume parade for family and friends, and then have a family game night, Dr. Grow says.
Trick-or-treat at home
Think of it as a combination of Easter and Halloween: Hide candy around your house and have your kids “trick-or-treat” from room to room to find it, Dr. Grow says. (These are the best and worst Halloween snacks for kids.)
Tell scary stories
Nothing says Halloween like a well-told scary story, Hallas says. Find age-appropriate stories, turn off the lights, hand out glow sticks, and pass the flashlight, allowing each member of your family to share their favorite spooky tale.
Halloween activities you should absolutely avoid
Some Halloween activities cannot be done in a safer way and should be avoided altogether, Hallas says.
This Halloween scare staple has three major strikes against it: It’s indoors, it’s hard to maintain social distancing (especially with cast members hiding), and it involves screaming, which transmits far more of the virus than regular talking, Hallas says.
“Teenagers are especially attracted to these and parents should say no this year,” she says, adding that this includes both commercial haunted houses and the kind that people set up in their basements or garages.
Most schools have already canceled or seriously curtailed many class or school parties and this is a good thing, Hallas says. “This year Halloween is on a Saturday so it will be easier to avoid parties at school,” she says. “Children at school can read stories about Halloween, and make their usual artwork for Halloween.”
Although some cities (like Los Angeles) are promoting trunk-or-treats as a safer alternative to door-to-door trick-or-treating, Dr. Iroku says that’s not a good idea. They’re not safer and may even be riskier for spreading the virus as they encourage people to congregate closer, he says.
Next, try out these healthy Halloween candy choices.
- Los Angeles County Department of Public Health: "Guidance for Celebrating Halloween"
- William Lang, MD, MHA, a family physician, medical director of WorldClinic, former director of the White House Medical Unit, deputy physician to the President, and associate chief medical officer of the Department of Homeland Security
- Mollie Grow, MD, MPH, a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital and an associate professor of pediatrics and general pediatrician in the division of general pediatrics at the University of Washington
- Chad Sanborn, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at KIDZ Medical Services in Palm Beach and an instructor at Florida Atlantic University's College of Medicine in Boca Raton, and the University of Vermont's Larner College of Medicine in Burlington
- Ugo Iroku, MD, MPH, a New York City-based physician, public health expert, and faculty at Mount Sinai Hospital
- Donna M. Hallas, PhD, a certified pediatric nurse practitioner and a clinical professor and program director for the pediatrics nurse practitioner program at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing
- National Confectioners Association: "New Survey Data: Halloween Is Happening And Americans Are Ready To Celebrate Creatively And Safely Throughout October"
- Food and Drug Administration: "Food Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)"