Safely Celebrating Halloween During COVID-19

Northwestern Medicine
COVID-19 October 01, 2020
COVID-19 has changed a lot of things this year, and the upcoming holidays are no exception, starting with Halloween. With some careful planning and creativity, there are still many ways to celebrate the spookiest night of the year.

Attribute to: Kavita Shanker-Patel, MD, family medicine at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. 

Is it safe to attend outdoor Halloween events this year (i.e. pumpkin patches, hayrides, trick-or-treating), or should these be avoided?

Any activity where physical distancing can be maintained and there is a limit on the number of people is considered moderate risk. Pumpkin patches and apple picking fall under this category. Hayrides can be acceptable (albeit still moderate to high risk) if a distance can be maintained and there is a limit on the number of people. Being in close contact with others who are not in your immediate household poses a greater risk of contracting COVID-19. Haunted pathways that are outdoors and, again, can maintain a distance and limit occupancy are also considered moderate risk. If there will be a lot of screaming, then we recommend a distance greater than 6 feet apart. No indoor haunted houses are recommended (and in some states like Illinois, they are not even allowed). As always, limiting exposure to others is the most effective way of containing the spread of this disease, so if you don't have to do these things then we recommend you don't.

Are there any traditional Halloween activities that should be off the table completely?

We do not recommend anything indoors (i.e. indoor Halloween costume parties, haunted houses). We also do not recommend that there be any traditional trick-or-treating with candy handed out to children going door-to-door or any trunk-or-treating that would be similar.

What are some ways (if any) to make trick-or-treating safe this year?

Some people are creating 6 foot chutes they will drop the candy into for the children to collect. This is better than traditional trick-or-treating but still poses risk. A safer way would be to individually put pieces of candy on a table (or put together individual goody bags) so as the children walk by they can pick them up on their own. We do recommend that if you are going to put out candy on a table or make a goody bag that you wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing the items.
You may also choose to skip trick-or-treating all together and do a scavenger hunt with your children to find Halloween themed items as they walk through the neighborhood looking at the decorations from a distance. A physically distanced Halloween costume parade is also another fun way to help kids enjoy the holiday.

How can homeowners ensure they are being as safe as possible when passing out candy?

We recommend frequently sanitizing. As above, wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before and after preparing any items to hand out. Wear a mask all the time. A Halloween costume mask does not suffice unless it is made of two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers the mouth and nose and doesn't leave gaps around the face. Maintain a distance of 6 feet between you and any others. It may also be helpful to draw markings along the sidewalk and driveway indicating a 6 foot distance as well.

Should kids wait a certain amount of time before eating candy from trick-or-treating?

You should be able to sanitize most candy with appropriate sanitizing wipes (like wiping down your groceries before bringing them into the house). It's best if you open the item for the child so their only contact is with the candy itself and not the wrapper.

Anything else you’d like to add?

COVID-19 has created a significant amount of change in our lives and all these upcoming holidays are going to be vastly different than what we, and our children, have been used to. We encourage you to be creative in coming up with new traditions that will safely allow you to celebrate these holidays. The CDC recommends avoiding moderate and high-risk activities as much as possible, but there are safer ways to participate in some of these if you so choose. Carving pumpkins in your home (or outside with friends at a distance), a virtual Halloween costume contest, Halloween candy scavenger hunt in your home with household contacts, decorating your home and Halloween movie nights with your household members are just some ways you can still enjoy Halloween with low risk of exposure to the disease. If you do decide to participate in other activities then we recommend you can ensure there will be limitations on the number of people, ability to physically distance from others, proper sanitation techniques are being followed, and mask wearing is enforced. If you think you could have COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, do not participate in any in-person Halloween activities, and contact your doctor right away.

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