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How Safe is Traditional Trick-or-Treating During COVID-19?

Group of kids trick or treating during Covid-19 pandemic wearing face masks
By Tehreem Khan
UAB News

Trick-or-treating is at the core of Halloween fun. As the holiday approaches, parents and children are concerned about what COVID-19 means to a traditional trick-or-treating experience and other related fun, fall activities.

Does COVID-19 mean no Halloween for kids this year? Is a safe, yet fun Halloween possible?

This Halloween may be different because of limited activities due to the novel coronavirus pandemic; but a joyful holiday is still possible, say experts from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Safe Practices

This Halloween, the rules for anyone participating in Halloween festivities, from children and parents chaperoning, are to:

  • Wear a mask
  • Practice social distancing of 6 feet if possible
  • Wash hands before and after events
  • Sanitize hands frequently throughout the evening
  • Avoid attending any in-person gatherings if you or someone in your home has any symptoms of COVID-19.

Masks should be worn at all times and are an easy way to protect others this fall, but experts from the CDC caution not to “double mask” by wearing a costume mask over a cloth mask because it can be dangerous if the costume mask makes it hard to breathe. A fun substitute can be a Halloween-themed mask made of two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers mouth and nose completely.

The traditional act of walking up to someone’s door and trick-or-treating may look a little different, too.

“One-way trick-or-treating, where goody bags are placed at the end of the yard or on a porch and kids can grab and go rather than ringing the doorbell, is a safer option this year,” said Rachael Lee, M.D., epidemiologist at University Hospital. “Consider finding creative ways to maintain 6 feet of distance between yourself and trick-or-treaters, such as having candy on a table outside or even sending candy down a tube into candy baskets.

“It would also be considerate and practical for homes to leave hand sanitizer outside for guests to use, if available,” Lee said. “If you or a loved one in the home is ill, please do not participate in handing out candy this year.”

Lee also suggests that families and neighbors could organize a candy scavenger hunt in a large grassy area or park, which could be a fun way to keep distance and gather candy at the same time.

Another consideration in mitigating the spread of the virus is trick-or-treating with members of your family only and going trick-or-treating in off-hours; a concern is that neighborhoods could get crowded quickly. Being mindful of space from others will be key, since 6 feet of distance is ideal for proper social distancing.

Different Types of Activities

While trick-or-treating is part of the quintessential childhood experience, there are other activities like pumpkin patches and hayrides that families love to do each year. But are those activities safe during COVID?

Erin DeLaney, assistant professor in UAB’s Department of Family and Community Medicine, shares that alternative plans can help make Halloween as special as in years past — albeit different.

“We want to give our kids something fun to look forward to, so different Halloween activities in lieu of traditional trick-or-treating could be a good alternative for your family,” DeLaney said. “Think outdoor pumpkin carving and playing some Halloween music, or having different types of activities where people are not going to be gathering closely, or not all touching the same things, would be ideal. Utilizing outdoor venues is what we are recommending — we really urge against doing Halloween activities of any kind inside this year.”

The CDC has specific activities listed as high-risk or alternatives this year as a helpful guide.

High-Risk Activities

  • Going to crowded, indoor costume parties, haunted houses and other such activities
  • Hosting or attending indoor gatherings where CDC guidelines like masking and social distancing are not observed
  • Traveling
  • Close contact with people and surfaces
  • Handing out treats
  • Alternative fun activities

Alternative Fun Activities

With members of your household:

  • Pumpkin carving
  • Movie night
  • Scavenger hunt-style trick-or-treating around your home
  • Scavenger hunt around the neighborhood to look for Halloween-themed things or walking and enjoying Halloween décor
  • Decorating the house, yard and living spaces

With friends, family and others while social distancing and wearing masks:

  • Virtual costume contest
  • Outdoor costume party
  • Outdoor pumpkin carving and display
  • Small-group open-air costume parade
  • Visiting open-air, one-way, walk-through haunted forests
  • Visiting pumpkin patches and orchards where surfaces are sanitized frequently along with adhering to other guidelines
  • Outdoor movie night

Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., division director of Infectious Diseases at UAB, reminds families and community members that 2020 has already been a challenging year for many. Marrazzo urges them to still try to find a silver lining and have fun, particularly with a holiday that has primarily been centered around being outdoors.

“There has been so much canceled and a lot of joy taken away, but we can safely make this a night and season for kids to enjoy,” Marrazzo said.