Trick-or-treating during the COVID pandemic will look different than it has in the past, but experts say it probably can still happen—as long as you are outside and following best practices for safety.
The first thing you should know is that the CDC currently defines traditional trick-or-treating, where kids go door-to-door and have treats handed to them, as one of the “higher-risk activities” associated with the celebration. (Other activities that require caution? Indoor haunted houses or crowded gatherings, like fall festivals.)
“You have to realize the virus is still out there, even on the evening of October 31,” Robert Amler, M.D., dean of the School of Health Sciences and Practice at New York Medical College and a former medical officer with the CDC, tells Glamour. “We take a holiday, but the virus does not.”
Halloween is still a few weeks away, but you should start thinking about it now and be prepared to change your plans if infection rates dramatically rise in your area. William Lang, M.D., a former White House doctor and current medical director of WorldClinic, notes that trick-or-treating certainly isn’t an essential activity—but it can provide kids with a sense of normalcy. Plus, communities can’t really ban it, meaning the decision whether or not to go is up to you.
“People who are at risk, or households that have at-risk members, may want to choose not to participate this year,” Lang says. “Even though each individual interaction does not achieve the CDC risk threshold, many small interactions may slightly raise risk, so why take a chance?”
If you’re leaning toward scrapping the whole thing, Alexandra Fung, a parenting expert and CEO of Upparent, says that Halloween scavenger hunts in your home or yard paired with a fun themed dinner can be just as festive. But if you do want to give trick-or-treating a go, here’s how medical experts say you can do that as safely as possible.
Stay up-to-date on local guidance.
“Before taking your kids out on Halloween, check the rate of positive COVID-19 test results in your area,” says Aimee Ferraro, Ph.D., M.P.H., a faculty member at Walden University’s Master of Public Health program. “If the rate is under 5 percent, it would generally be safe to go trick-or-treating. Consider the steps public health officials are taking. For example, if your local school has closed because of a recent outbreak, it’s probably not a good idea to go out on Halloween.”
Follow the 4 W’s.
“The four W’s are: Wash your hands, wear your mask, watch your distance, and walk away from groups,” Amler says. “Don’t stay in large groups of people.” So keep your celebration small, keep it outside, and try to keep the outing brief. Stay away from indoor Halloween parties or haunted houses. Doctors stress that keeping groups as small as possible will help make the experience safer.
The CDC recommends that instead of going door-to-door, kids pick up individually wrapped gift bags at the end of a driveway or in a yard so and that families wait their turn to allow for social distancing.
Make the holiday a family affair.
“[The virus] means not going out in large groups with friends, as your kids may have done in years past,” says Ariana Witkin, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Instead, parents can try dressing up with the kids and going trick-or-treating as a whole family. Kids pick up on cues from the adults around them. If they see you are enjoying and participating in Halloween, they are more likely to go with the flow as well."
Run a symptom check before heading out.
Lang says that anyone with a fever, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, unexpected aches and pains, or upper respiratory symptoms needs to stay home, period.
Keep interactions short.
“Data have shown that a quick interaction of less than 15 minutes is less likely to result in transmission,” explains Molly Hyde, M.H.S., C.I.C., and infection control practitioner at Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC). “The good news regarding trick-or-treating is that most interactions are short, which means the risk of COVID-19 transmission is low when giving out or accepting candy. This doesn’t mean that you can ignore public health guidelines, though.”
Rethink how you’re handing out—and taking!—treats.
“Regarding how to keep yourself safe when handing out candy, there is no good way if kids get close to you,” explains Ingrid Yang, M.D., a hospitalist physician in San Diego. “So if you still want to stand outside, I’d recommend setting up a table and keeping yourself six feet from the table. Be sure you are still wearing proper PPE. Handing out candy will be more of a ‘watch them grab a piece or a baggie from six-plus feet away,’ but can still be very rewarding and fun.”
Experts say that taking treats directly from someone else isn’t a good idea, but reaching one by one into a bucket or a basket could be okay for trick-or-treating during the COVID pandemic—provided everyone uses hand sanitizer afterward. Bonus points if you’re outside, further limiting exposure. If there are too many people at a certain house, or you don’t like their setup for handing out candy, just skip it and move on to the next location.
Ensure that everyone wears proper masks, not just plastic Halloween-costume masks.
A Halloween costume mask “isn't a substitute for cloth masks because it’s not designed to be something that fits your face,” explains Brian Labus, M.D., M.P.H., an epidemiologist and a professor at UNLV’s School of Public Health. These aren’t fitted close to the face and often have eye or mouth holes, negating the point of wearing a mask in the first place. Ensure that any kids over the age of two wear proper cloth or surgical masks—you can get more guidance on that from the CDC.
One idea is to get Halloween-themed masks, or go for costumes like doctors or nurses that can have masks as part of the getup. “Try not to make the masks and gloves themselves scary, as you want to still normalize wearing PPE to your kids,” Yang stresses. “Masks and gloves are cool, not scary.”
The bottom line.
Halloween is going to look different this year—and that’s okay! While you’re thinking about the virus, don’t forget to consider other safety precautions you should take on Halloween—be smart around traffic, take only packaged treats from people you don’t know, and ensure that children are adequately supervised.
“You’ve just got to remember, even though we are sick and tired of this virus, the virus is not tired of making us sick,” Amler says. “That’s the hardest thing.”
Originally Appeared on Glamour