Halloween 2020: Is Trick-or-Treating Cancelled?

There are many fun ways to celebrate Halloween. Here’s what you should know before ringing doorbells this year.

mom in mask with child dressed for Halloween

Medically reviewed in October 2020

Updated on October 16, 2020

COVID-19 has disrupted normal routines and thwarted travel plans over the past several months. Now, the pandemic is complicating yet another annual tradition: Halloween trick-or-treating.

Many parents aren’t sure if they should let their kids walk from house to house collecting candy and other loot. It’s an understandable concern as confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Americans continue to rise. Even if kids wear masks, they may still be congregating with other groups of trick-or-treaters, reaching into candy bowls or taking treats being handed out at doorsteps.

So, is trick-or-treating off-limits this year?

In some ways, Halloween is actually one of the more COVID-19-friendly holidays, says Bruce Hirsch, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York. “Trick-or-treating largely takes place outdoors and we know that outdoor air is safer than recycled indoor air when it comes spreading this virus,” he says.

Still, there is no one-size-fits all answer to this question. When deciding what’s best for you and your family, it’s important to understand your own personal risk factors as well as current COVID-19 activity and pandemic-related restrictions in your town.

Consider your risk factors
Before making the decision to trick or treat, it’s important to be aware of COVID-19 case rates in the area where you live, advises Shelly Vaziri Flais, MD, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

“If the infection rate is below 5 percent, it is considered ‘low risk,’ while 5 to 10 percent is concerning,” Dr. Flais says.

You should also take your children’s overall health into account as well as the health of the people they live and interact with on a routine basis. “If you are using grandparents for sitters and they are at higher risk for a severe course of illness because of their advanced age, trick-or-treating may be too risky,” Flais explains.

If anyone in your home or anyone who has regular, close contact with your family has known risk factors for more severe cases of COVID-19, you may want to take extra precautions this Halloween. In addition to older age, risk factors associated with more serious infections include:

  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Heart disease
  • Smoking
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Weakened immune system
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes

How to re-imagine Halloween
Even if you’re not at high risk and think it’s safe to let your kids trick-or-treat, many people in your community may have concerns about exposure and may not feel comfortable answering their door.

Trick-or-treating may be the ultimate Halloween tradition, but it’s not the only one. So, before you make up your mind, keep your community’s well-being in mind and consider some other fun, but less-risky ways to celebrate Halloween, such as

  • Get a smaller group of 10 or fewer people together for an outdoor costume parade, contest or party. You can also host a larger group virtually through a video conferencing platform, such as Zoom, Skype or FaceTime, Flais suggests.
  • Host a small outdoor pumpkin carving or decorating session in your yard.
  • Create a Halloween scavenger hunt. Give children lists of items to hunt for outside in your yard or neighborhood.
  • Rather than going to a haunted house, visit an outdoor open-air haunted forest, corn maze or pumpkin patch with a one-way path. During your visit, be sure to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently, particularly after touching commonly used surfaces, pumpkins or other objects.

Remember, it’s also important to wear a mask, keep hand sanitizer on hand and maintain social distance of at least 6 feet during these or other group activities, Flais cautions.

Tips for trick-or-treating safely
If you decide that trick-or-treating and giving out candy is an option for your family and your neighbors agree, there are ways you can do it more safely amid the pandemic, Flais points out.

Limit touching and contact. Some parents are coming up with creative hacks to make passing out and receiving candy less risky. For example, some households are using chutes and tubes or fishing poles to dole out candy in a socially distant way. You can also line up treats in “grab and go” bags at the end of your driveway or yard.

Take it outside. Rather than answering the door to trick-or-treaters, set up a table outdoors on your front lawn, driveway or by the curb.

Get creative about social distancing. Place pumpkins or other spooky markings 6 feet apart on your lawn to remind trick-or-treaters to maintain their distance from one another.

Keep any interactions with trick-or-treaters short. The quicker the better, advises Corinn Cross, MD, pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and an AAP spokesperson. Brief encounters are less likely to spread SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. So, make the exchange quickly and keep everyone moving along.

Remember to mask up. Some costumes have built-in masks. Do not wear a costume mask over a cloth mask. This could make it harder to breathe. Masks should also not be worn by children younger than 2-years old or anyone who has trouble breathing.   

Plan ahead to avoid crowds. If you can, plan a route and coordinate with your neighbors to avoid crowds, Flais recommends. “The good news is that Halloween falls on a Saturday, so that means you can spread activities out across the day as opposed to the few hours after school when it’s still light out and everyone is trick-or-treating at the same time,” she says.

In big cities, trick-or-treating in apartment buildings with packed stairwells and elevators is likely too risky. Storefronts on streets and lobbies of buildings may be a safer option.

Stay close to home. Don’t drive to other neighborhoods to trick-or-treat if your neighborhood is experiencing an uptick in cases. This could spread COVID-19 to other areas.

Take additional safety precautions.  It’s always a good move to carry a flashlight to avoid falls and to ensure your group is visible to cars. Adults chaperoning groups of younger children should also carry hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol and remind trick-or-treaters to use it, Flais says.

It may be tempting to dive into candy bags right away, but trick-or-treaters should not eat their candy until they get home, Flais cautions. They should also remember to wash their hands thoroughly.

Recent research has shown that the virus is unlikely to live on surfaces like candy wrappers. But one important way to reduce exposure to SARS-CoV-2 is to wash your hands well with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before you eat or before touching any part of your face.

Article sources open article sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Trick or Treating and Other Halloween Activities.” October 9, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Older Adults.” Sept 11, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): COVID-19 in Children and Teens.” Sept 17, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): People with Certain Medical Conditions.” Oct 6, 2020.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Q&A for Consumers | Hand Sanitizers and COVID-19.” Sept 17, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Food and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” Aug 22, 2020.

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