Halloween is the one night of the year when it's OK to dress in costumes, stay up late and eat lots of candy, so it's no surprise kids are counting down to the start of the spooky festivities. But as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, parents may be asking what Halloween will look like this year and whether or not trick-or-treating will happen in neighborhoods around the country.
Last year, 5-year-old Dakota Baxter continued his beloved tradition of trick-or-treating in the small Florida neighborhood where he lives with his mother Marissa Baxter. Because of the pandemic, Dakota's big night involved wearing face masks, using antibacterial hand sanitizer between houses and maintaining six-feet of social distance throughout.
This year, Marissa Baxter says her son plans to trick-or-treat again, with some of the same guidelines in place, dressed as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.
"Honestly, I feel it needs to happen this year," says Baxter. "Am I still going to be cautious? Yes, absolutely. But my kid needs some normalcy."
In Rochester, N.Y. last year, Jill Coughlin, a mom of three, witnessed Halloween in a different way than ever before. Aside from face masks and social distancing, Coughlin saw houses with DIY candy chutes and other innovative contraptions created to safely distribute candy.
"It was nice seeing the community come together during such a weird time to keep a fun tradition alive for the kids with homemade paper towel roll chutes," Coughlin says. "I'm not worried about trick-or-treating at all this year since it's all outdoors — kids have to be kids."
Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is available, many families like the Baxters and Coughlins are even more excited for the Halloween festivities to return again this year
"I feel these kids need to remember what it's like to have fun and trick-or-treat and not be locked away in a house because the world is so scary," says Baxter. "We have to start [going out and] doing things safely as it's our new normal."
But while most people want to go trick-or-treating this year, it's normal to ask: Is it safe? Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Biden, says yes.
"It's a good time to reflect on why it's important to get vaccinated," Dr. Fauci said in a CNN interview earlier this week. "But go out there and enjoy Halloween."
Dr. Harvey Karp, a pediatrician and CEO of Happiest Baby, agrees that trick-or-treating can be done safely if the right precautions are in place.
For those looking to fill their candy bags this Halloween, Karp offers these safety tips.
"The top thing parents — and kids if they're old enough — can do to protect themselves is to get vaccinated," says Karp. "If your child isn't yet old enough to be vaccinated, they should wear a mask around people outside of the household."
"When worn over the mouth and nose — masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19," Karp reminds.
Wear A Mask
"Regardless of vaccination status," says Karp, "parents and kids should mask up while trick or treating to stay safe."
When it comes to what type of mask is best, Karp recommends an N95 mask for adults. For kids, who often prefer a soft fabric mask, Karp says the most important thing is to keep the mask on, covering both the nose and mouth, and to wash reusable masks daily.
And no, costume masks do not count.
"Unfortunately,” Karp adds, "monster or superhero masks are not a substitute for a face mask, so make sure you're still wearing your facemask, Spider-Man."
Skip Crowded Houses
While you might want to snag a picture in front of the highly-decorated house or take a closer look at other costumes, it's in your best interest to move past the crowds this year.
"Skip houses where people handing out candy aren't wearing masks, or where there are larger crowds gathering — it's better to be safe than sorry, even if they're handing out king-sized candy bars," Karp cautions. "And, before you go out — ideally in your own neighborhood to prevent potential spread — make a family game plan about what to do if you come across a house where people aren't making safe choices."
Stay Home If You Feel Sick
While Karp says this should be a no-brainer, he recommends staying home if you aren't feeling 100 percent well: It's not worth it to get someone else sick for a free candy bar.
"If you or the kids aren't feeling your best, even if it seems like a case of the sniffles, stay at home and have your own monster mash with spooky movies, forts and candy," Karp says. "COVID-19 is a serious health threat and flu season is upon us. With hospitals understaffed and overwhelmed, it's best to prevent the spread of any illness."
"The safest option for socializing is to gather outdoors," Karp shares. "When you're inside in a confined space, it becomes easier for aerosol droplets carrying the COVID-19 virus to spread between people."
For kids like 11-year-old Stephanie Coughlin, Karp's safety tips sound like the perfect addition to Halloween, 2021-style.
"I've been waiting all year to go trick-or-treating and wear matching costumes with my best friend," she says. "I'm still going to wear my mask and be careful, but I just want to be a kid again."