7 Halloween Safety Tips During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A pediatrician shares ways that families can celebrate the holiday safely and still have fun.

Halloween safety during the COVID-19 pandemic

Halloween is traditionally filled with trick-or-treating, haunted houses, and costume parades. But, as with many aspects of life this year, the coronavirus pandemic has forced families to consider safety in a whole new light this Halloween, especially with the potential for a flu and COVID-19 twindemic.

Don’t cancel Halloween, says Dr. Gopi Desai, a pediatrician with NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Queens and an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine. “For adults and for children, our whole lives were pretty much turned upside down in the past six months, so I think that it’s really important to maintain some structure and not to just cancel everything,” says Dr. Desai. “If Halloween is something your child really enjoys, you can still celebrate it and keep your children engaged and involved, but in ways that are safer.”

Dr. Gopi Desai

Dr. Gopi Desai

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its guidance for how to safely celebrate and mitigate risks. Traditional trick-or-treating and crowded indoor costume parties or haunted houses are considered higher-risk activities. A candy scavenger hunt with your household members in or around your home and a virtual costume party are deemed lower-risk activities.

Health Matters spoke with Dr. Desai for more tips on how we can keep children happy and protected this Halloween.

1. Wear a mask, wash your hands, and practice social distancing.

Families have been encouraged to follow these basic safety precautions to protect themselves from COVID-19, and this holds true for Halloween. “If you’re going to be with people outside your own household, try as much as possible to make those gatherings small and outdoors,” says Dr. Desai. “Staying outside, trying to maintain distance, washing hands, wearing masks, those are really the big things. Avoiding group activities indoors is going to be key as we get into the chillier months.”

2. Don’t go traditional trick-or-treating.

Traditional trick-or-treating involves close, face-to-face contact with people outside your household. Avoid it, says Dr. Desai.

“You’re going up to a new household. They open their door. You’re within 6 feet of each other,” says Dr. Desai. “Even though the interaction is brief, it’s still an exposure.” (For the same reasons, Dr. Desai discourages apartment building trick-or-treating, which has the added factors of being indoors and potentially crowded hallways and elevators.)

If you want to trick-or-treat, look for ways to participate in one-way trick-or-treating. People have come up with creative solutions, such as a homemade candy chute or leaving individually wrapped goody bags at the end of their driveway. (The CDC considers this a moderate-risk activity.)

The key is to minimize contact wherever possible. “If you pass by a house where there’s a big bowl of candy for everyone to pick out of, skip that house and move on to houses where they’ve left out individually wrapped candy bags,” advises Dr. Desai. “That way you don’t have to worry as much about who else has touched it before.”

3. Don’t agonize over sanitizing every piece of candy.

Washing hands remains important, but parents shouldn’t feel the need to wipe down every piece of candy — especially if you’re only bringing home individual goody bags. “We now know that the primary way this virus spreads is breathing in the air of other people who have it,” says Dr. Desai. “Can there be some surface transmission? It’s possible. So, it is probably safest to avoid sticking your hands in a big bowl of candy that many other people have also touched. Try to stick to prewrapped goody bags. The best thing you can do is to try to normalize the situation a little bit and try to get your candy in a way that’s safe.”

4. Get creative with your at-home festivities.

There are plenty of ways to make Halloween enjoyable without leaving the house. Dr. Desai suggests creating a candy scavenger hunt, where you can hide pieces of candy or goody bags around your home or in the yard. “The kids can dress up in their costumes and run around trying to find the candy,” she says.

Zoom costume parties, pumpkin carving, and physically distanced outdoor costume parades with a small group are also great, lower- to moderate-risk options. “Halloween is on a Saturday this year, so you have the whole day to walk around in your costume, look at the decorations, and enjoy the holiday without necessarily interacting with a lot of people,” says Dr. Desai.

How Safe Is It?

The Risk Levels of Halloween Activities Based on CDC Guidance

5. Visit outdoor Halloween and fall attractions during off periods.

Many fun fall traditions such as pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and farm visits take place outdoors, which makes them safer activities. But be sure to assess the situation in real time. If it’s busy and harder to keep your distance from other people, then move on to a backup plan. “Try going during off hours or on weekdays,” Dr. Desai says. “Going to a pumpkin patch in the middle of October at 1 p.m. on a Saturday is probably going to be quite packed. If you try to anticipate those things beforehand, then you won’t end up getting there and either feeling uncomfortable or having to leave.”

Don’t forget to bring hand sanitizer since fall activities are generally hands-on. “Let them run around, but during the process, try to minimize how much they put their hands in their mouth and touch their face,” says Dr. Desai.

6. Include your kids in the planning.

It’s important to talk to your kids as early and as frequently as possible about Halloween plans and safety precautions to set their expectations.

“Get them involved in the decision-making,” says Dr. Desai. “Say, ‘We may not be able to go trick-or-treating. Would you prefer to do a virtual Halloween costume party or pumpkin carving instead?’ Let them choose and they’ll be more invested in the whole day.”

7. Be ready to pivot.

It’s possible you’ll make Halloween plans, then have to change them if it seems unsafe. Just make sure your children are aware that plans could change and that there’s a Plan B. If your child is at an age when changing plans isn’t going to go over well, opt for a fun activity at home, where you can avoid being in a risky situation or having an unhappy child.

Ultimately, let your kids know that they won’t miss out this year. “I encourage a lot of communication,” says Dr. Desai. “Halloween’s going to be different, but try to reassure them: We’re going to have fun and celebrate.”