By Pamela M. Aaltonen, and Meg Sorg
Halloween is spookier than ever this year because there is a real threat: COVID-19. With the dangers of infection and the anxiety surrounding the virus looming over the holiday, both parents and children are wondering what to do.
How much you and your kids should do depends on the risk of infection in your area. You can start by checking the Harvard Global Health Institute’s color-coded map, which shows the level of coronavirus risk in your county.
In some communities, you may want to skip trick-or-treating altogether. In others, you might set a time limit. Some neighborhoods may send kids out in shifts. One option is “reverse” trick-or-treating, with the children in their yards while adults toss candy from cars, parade-style. Obviously, this is best done where neighbors are good at organization and families know one another.
If you do trick-or-treating the traditional way , maintaining social distancing between families is a must. All children living in the same house should stay together. Use hand sanitizer between house visits, and make sure you and your kids are wearing appropriate facial coverings. Don’t rely on a Halloween mask to provide adequate protection; instead, incorporate the child’s existing cloth mask into the costume itself. The CDC recommends face masks for children over age 2 when they’re out in public.
Arriving home, put the treat bag in quarantine for three to four days to allow time for any virus particles to die. Make sure everyone washes their hands. Have a pre-made “treat bag” available so the kids can enjoy something that night while waiting for their booty to be virus-free.
As for trick-or-treaters coming to your house, turn on your porch light to welcome them only if everyone in your family is symptom-free and low-risk. Be creative in distributing the candy; an Ohio man created a candy chute to deliver contact-free goodies. Keep your mask on and wear gloves. You can toss treat bags to the kids or drop the candy at a designated “Place Bucket Here” zone rather than letting them grab from a large pile. Mark off socially distanced areas for children and chaperones to wait.
If you’re not taking your children door to door, you can still celebrate at home . Age-appropriate Halloween movies, read-alongs with Halloween books, a scavenger hunt for treats hidden around the house or a create-your-own-costume party are all ways to engage. A virtual Halloween party where children and their friends dress up and celebrate via videoconferencing lets kids show off costumes without risking exposure.
Older kids and teens may opt out of trick-or-treating this year. But they can enjoy virtual karaoke parties or scary movie nights. They can use culinary and creative skills to construct spooky treats, like meatball eyes, hot dogs carved like severed fingers and skeletons assembled out of relishes. And of course there’s the traditional activity : carving and decorating pumpkins.
Whatever your family does this Halloween, don’t forget the basics of personal protection. Masks should fit well and be worn over the mouth and nose, even when outside if there is potential for contact with others. Avoid confined spaces. Keep a social distance of at least six feet between your family and others. Regularly clean frequently touched objects.
COVID-19 is scary — and dangerous. But you can still have a Halloween that’s fun, healthy and safe if you follow the guidelines.
Pamela M. Aaltonen is professor emerita at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind, and immediate past president of the American Public Health Association. Meg Sorg is a clinical assistant professor of nursing at Purdue. This was first published by The Conversation — “Do we have to toss Halloween out the window this year, too? Public health experts give some guidelines“.