A Family Guide to Staying Safe This Halloween

Halloween Family BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of npr.org

Halloween is fast approaching, and parents across the country are probably quivering with fear over what this sugar-filled holiday will mean during a global pandemic. The idea of crowds of people crowding around a candy jar is the stuff nightmares are made of, especially during Covid-19. However, despite the looming threat of the coronavirus and the risks associated with trick-or-treating, Americans still plan to celebrate this holiday. 

According to a recent report from the National Retail Federation, 58% of consumers still plan to celebrate, with 61% of respondents with kids planning to dress up and 63% of consumers without kids planning to hand out candy. 

Similarly, a recent poll conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the National Confectioners Association indicates that Americans are looking forward to Halloween more than ever before. The poll found that “74% of millennial moms and young parents say that Halloween is more important than ever this year.”

That said, research also shows that families are preparing to rethink how they celebrate this holiday in light of the current pandemic.

As with so many other holidays and events in 2020, Halloween will look different this year. Per the CDC guidelines, there are essential steps we all must take when trick-or-treating this Halloween if we want to reduce our risk of contracting Covid-19 or influenza.

According to recent safety guidelines from the CDC, the highest risk of exposure to Covid-19 during Halloween involves trick-or-treating. The CDC discourages Americans from participating in trick-or-treating, or at least in traditional trick-or-treating as we knew it before 2020. Similarly, infectious disease experts suggest the greatest risk has to do with spending time in close contact with individuals who don’t live in your home (friends, strangers, neighbors, etc.) 

So, does that mean that Halloween has to be canceled? Absolutely not. After all, kids and families could really use a fun day to escape the scary reality we’re all faced with. 

Important Halloween Safety Guidelines from the CDC

The CDC offers some ways to make trick-or-treating safer for everyone involved. Some tips are fairly straightforward and consistent with previous CDC recommendations, such as washing hands, using hand sanitizer, wear a cloth mask (crucial for anyone over two years old) and maintain at least six feet of distance between yourself and anyone who does not live in your house. 

Other tips are more specific to the holiday, such as giving treats out outdoors, avoid direct contact with trick-or-treaters, and offer individually bagged treats rather than having kids all reaching into the same bowl of treats. 

In addition to personal habits that can help prevent the spread of Covid-19 during Halloween, the CDC also ranks Halloween-related activities based on risk, from low to higher risk behaviors. 

Low-risk activities include stay-at-home crafting activities such as pumpkin carving, decorating your home, doing scavenger hunts with people you live with, and having a virtual Halloween costume contest. 

Moderate risk activities involve one-way trick-or-treating with individually wrapped goodie bags, smaller group gatherings outdoors from a safe distance of 6-feet apart, visiting pumpkin patches (and using hand sanitizer every time kids touch any surface), and outdoor costume parties where everyone wears protective masks at all times. 

Higher risk activities, which we should all avoid if possible, include traditional trick-or-treating, trunk-or-treat events, crowded Halloween parties, and hayrides with strangers where you cannot socially distance. 

While Halloween parties often involve festive cocktails and adult-only witches brews, try to limit your alcohol intake this year to ensure that your judgment is not impaired, which could result in risky behaviors and unnecessary exposure to germs for your family. 

Spooky (and Safe) Fun for the Whole Family

Feeling uninspired and lost when it comes to Halloween fun for the family in the days of Covid-19? The Center on Media and Child Health has created a comprehensive and super approachable guide to surviving Halloween in the safest way that will still allow families to have fun together. After all, many of us don’t really know what’s allowed, appropriate, and where to begin. 

As we navigate these difficult and scary times, we can do so while still allowing our kids to be kids and letting them experience some of the holiday’s silliness and spookiness without any unnecessary risk. 

The CMCH offers tips on safer ways to embrace Halloween decorations, whether in person (at a distance) with others or virtually, thanks to video chats and social media. They also encourage families to get extra creative with costumes this year by making their own or accessorizing store-bought costumes with custom-made face masks to go along with their outfits. After all, face masks are still essential even if they go with a scary costume. 

Scary or seasonal movie nights are always a good idea, and virtual Halloween parties will be a popular and fun way for friends to celebrate together even from afar. You can host virtual movie nights together using the digital “watch party” formats, do virtual scavenger hunts, indulge in your sweet treats together, and tell scary stories, all without ever leaving your home. 

During Halloween celebrations, safety will be more important than ever before if we all want to avoid germs and prevent another spike in Covid-19 cases across the country. So, we spoke to Dr. Michael Rich to find out the smartest steps we can all take to protect our kids and to get some burning questions answered, just in time for trick-or-treating.

What do you think are the most significant risks to children and families while celebrating Halloween, in light of the current pandemic?

The holiday will come with the same risks we all experience every day. We did, however, receive some recent information from the CDC suggesting that new cases of COVID are coming from small gatherings, an activity which people thought of as safer. As families celebrate Halloween, we should keep this in mind and not attend parties or haunted houses even if the number of visitors is low. Therefore, forming bubbles of trusted loved ones and friends is crucial.

How can parents best keep younger kids safe without losing the spirit of the holiday?

In some ways, we can relate this to the origin of the holiday, originally known as All Hallows Eve, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts of the dead returning to earth. Over time, Halloween evolved into today’s day of activities, celebrated with trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, festive gatherings, costume contests, and eating treats. So, speak directly to that theme when cutting back on activities due to COVID and make it a kind of celebration of humanity in the face of the threat. 

There are also several activities families can do to keep the spirit of the holiday alive. My CMCH team and I developed a Halloween guide to help families celebrate with safe scares and activities that everyone can enjoy.

Some parents may opt for canceling trick-or-treating plans entirely, but there are ways of safely engaging in that tradition as well. Check in with your local community ahead of time to see which households are open to trick or treaters. Similar to what we should do before heading back to school, kids should be familiar with their routes before heading out on the streets. You can check out more guidelines for safe socialization in our Family Digital Wellness and Return to School Guide.

Are some types of costumes better or safer than others? For example, is it safe to wear Halloween costumes with masks, and should face masks also be worn for added protection? Should children wear gloves when trick or treating? 

Masks are an absolute must! While the likelihood of contagion via fomites is less than we initially thought, it is still not zero. We don’t know who and what they will be touching. Integrating masks or gloves into costumes is a great and fun way to incorporate safety.

Aside from costumes, there are ways of safely collecting trick-or-treating candy. Have your kids put the candy in a big plastic bag and limit them from touching it for 24 hours, so any infectious materials have the chance to die off. This is also a good way to manage their candy eating. 

Should kids skip costumes entirely and opt for safer Halloween-themed activities at home?

There’s no need to skip costumes. Instead of showing off costumes to trick or treaters on the street, I would suggest sharing costumes with loved ones and friends virtually. You can even host a virtual costume contest and keep the tradition alive through the magic of the screen. Instead of buying pre-made costumes at stores that may have been exposed to the virus, opt for DIY costumes. This makes for a great family activity that asks kids to use their creativity, not just shopping prowess.

For families with older children and teens, how can parents best explain to them the risks of spreading germs or exposure to Covid-19 during Halloween gatherings, and how can parents encourage teens to practice safe behavior on Halloween and beyond?

While most families should already be aware of the risks, this is an excellent opportunity to review it and hear from the kids about the troubles they are having with it. This gives us a chance to revive the dialogue around safe COVID measures. As mentioned before, small gatherings are now considered super spreader events, so share the knowledge with your kids and reconsider the limitations of group get-togethers. 

When speaking to your kids, put in place safety practices as a means to protect ourselves and each other. We are a month away from Thanksgiving, so we still have time to prepare for that occasion in a way that takes care of our loved ones.