Trick or treat?
It feels like a trick question in 2020. How can we safely celebrate Halloween rituals with our kids during the coronavirus pandemic when more than 200,000 people have died in the United States, and many kids still are doing virtual school and parents are working from home to limit exposure?
How do you put on a costume, go door to door, ring the doorbell and take candy from your neighbors?
You don’t — at least not in the way you have in previous years.
"Traditional Halloween is risky," says Dr. Sarmistha Hauger, infectious disease specialist at Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas. "We get to go out with our friends and family, and that's a problem, unfortunately, during COVID. These really are the risks for exposure."
There are ways to minimize the risk, says Dr. Stanley Spinner, vice president and chief medical officer at Texas Children’s Pediatrics & Texas Children’s Urgent Care.
The biggest thing is to avoid being in close contact with anyone not in your family or "quarantine pod," as well as not putting your hands in a place where many people have touched.
That means that this year it’s not one big bowl that kids reach in to grab a candy. It also means not ringing doorbells and coming face-to-face with neighbors.
"My bottom line is that we need to limit our physical but not our social contact during this pandemic," says Darlene Bhavnani, an epidemiologist at the University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School.
She suggests making your Halloween more about the costumes, the decorations and the fresh air rather than the candy, as well as incorporating cloth masks into your costume.
A less risky Halloween could mean these scenarios:
• Families have their own stay-at-home party without guests or trick-or-treating. Watch Halloween-themed movies, play games and make a big deal out of the decorations and Halloween-themed foods. You can set up a haunted house in your home or create a spooky forest in your backyard. "The safest way is to have Halloween at home," says Brian Metzger, medical director of infectious diseases at St. David’s Medical Center.
• Have a big Zoom party with your kids’ friends instead of trick-or-treating in a group. It could include a virtual Halloween costume contest.
• Neighbors carve pumpkins outside together, physically distanced by family. If you go to a pumpkin patch to pick up the pumpkins, make sure everyone is wearing a mask, is using hand sanitizer and is physically distanced. If not, skip it and order your pumpkins through grocery delivery.
• A neighborhood costume parade with families spaced out and each neighbor setting up a table outside with wrapped candy spread out so there is less risk of touching more than one piece of candy. If you are putting up the table, set out the candy while wearing a mask and after washing your hands. (Or skip the candy and just have a costume parade. Candy can be had at home.) Everyone wears a mask at all times, avoids touching their faces and uses hand sanitizer often. Avoid big groups of people by walking the other way or crossing the street.
• For the people who usually hand out candy, use the table method above or place individually wrapped treats spread out on your front porch or hung from a string with clothespins. Do not answer the door to trick-or-treaters.
• If you get candy from outside your house, put it in a bag and let it sit for 72 hours before eating it, or wipe down all the candy wrappers with a sanitizing wipe and then sanitize your hands before bringing the candy from the wrapper to your face.
• Families trick-or-treat only at houses of people they already are in contact with regularly, such as grandparents or members of their virtual school pod.
• Families dress up and have their own candy scavenger hunt for themselves or their quarantine pod in their yard. Or they go on a scavenger hunt in the neighborhood, maintaining physical distance and wearing a mask, and look for items related to Halloween, such as the moon, a pumpkin, a skeleton or a witch.
Don’t forget basic Halloween safety that would be true for any year, such as costumes that don’t drag on the ground, costumes that don’t cover the eyes, using light sticks and flashlights, walking with an adult, and watching for cars before crossing the street, says Dr. Renee Higgerson, medical director for pediatric critical care at St. David’s Children’s Hospital.
How you handle Halloween also could differ depending on who lives in your house. If you have someone who is older, is immunocompromised or has diabetes or another risk factor that would put them at an increased risk of a bad outcome with COVID-19, avoid anything that could make you a virus carrier to that person.
The CDC recommends everyone avoid these activities:
• Participating in traditional trick-or-treating.
• Having trunk-or-treat, where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots.
• Attending crowded costume parties held indoors.
• Going to an indoor haunted house where people might be crowded together and screaming, which presents a greater risk of the virus spreading farther than 6 feet.
• Going on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household.
• Using alcohol or drugs, which can cloud judgment and increase risky behaviors.
• Traveling to a rural fall festival.