Halloween Safety Tips from an Infectious Disease Expert + Mom

If you’re longing to give the kids in your life a “normal” Halloween but are totally confused about how to enjoy the holiday safely, you are not alone! Halloween safety is on every family’s mind this October as we navigate a COVID Halloween with serious confusion–and perhaps more than a little trepidation.

It’s my job as an epidemiologist to translate the huge amount of COVID-19 information into practical, actionable steps families can take to protect themselves.

In September, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines for celebrating Halloween in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and these guidelines list traditional trick or treating as a high risk activity.

This does not mean trick or treating in 2020 is impossible to do safely, but it may require some extra planning.

In this article, I will provide tips on low contact trick or treating and include some ways families can make Halloween safe and fun. I will also let you know when it’s not safe to go trick or treating and what you can do instead to keep that Halloween spirit alive for your kids.

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Halloween Safety: Is It Safe to go Trick or Treating during a COVID Halloween?

When I approach disease prevention, I always tell people to look at the primary ways that a particular disease is spread and keep your focus there.

It’s easy to lose sight of this when there are so many different ways that germs can enter your body, but you will exhaust yourself trying to understand a bacteria or virus from every possible angle.

In the case of COVID-19, we are really trying to prevent the sharing of respiratory spray from coughing, sneezing, breathing, and even talking.

This is why keeping a distance of at least six feet from others and wearing a mask to catch that respiratory spray is so incredibly important and effective.

If we can find ways to reduce or even completely eliminate the possibility of sharing respiratory spray with socially distanced trick or treating, it can absolutely be a lower risk activity.

Tools for Making the Best Decision for Your Family

Becoming educated about the risks of COVID-19 in your particular geographic area will empower you to make the most informed decision regarding which Halloween activities are safe.

Your state or local health department is mostly likely reporting the latest COVID-19 numbers on their website, but how do you know what is too high?

Fortunately, the Harvard Global Institute of Health has put together a decision-making tool that lines up with CDC’s own social distancing recommendations.

Simply locate your county on the U.S. map (or your country on the world map) and find your area’s risk level. This tool even includes suggestions for healthy halloween activities based on your risk level. Score!

How Can You Manage Socially Distanced Trick or Treating?

To stay in line with CDC’s recommendations, I encourage families to try to keep a distance of six feet or more from those outside their household or close social circle. Your social circle would be those friends or family that you come into close physical contact with routinely, and it may even include your coworkers or neighbors.

If you think of your social circle as a bubble, any time you add someone to your bubble, you are not just adding that one person. You are also adding anyone else in their bubble as well.

If they haven’t been as strict about social distancing, that could be a lot of people. That’s why we want to keep our social circle tight, even on Halloween.

little girl dressed as a witch while playing with cauldron
Get creative about fun activities you can do outdoors with your children to facilitate a socially distanced Halloween.

Mask Protocol for Little Ones

For those two years or older, it’s also important to wear a cloth face covering or mask that is designed to cover your nose and mouth. Costume masks and face shields are not sufficient!

Masks should be worn indoors but also outdoors in situations where you can’t socially distance, or where you are walking near others such as on a crowded sidewalk.

I have never personally wrangled a mask onto a two-year-old, but I can barely wipe a booger off my one-year-old.

Give yourself some grace if your little one keeps ripping their mask off. Keep in mind that the most important time for your little one to wear a mask is when social distancing isn’t possible. Make sure to plan costumes that allow you and your children to wear your mask comfortably.

If your child has a sensory disorder such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, or another condition that causes major discomfort or even difficulty breathing while wearing a mask, it is perfectly fine to forgo the mask altogether and focus more heavily on social distancing or at-home Halloween activities (you can find some fun at-home activities a little later in this article!).

A Few of Our Favorite Masks for Kids

With so many adorable and affordable masks designed for children, it’s easy to find something to match whatever costume you choose.

Surprise your kids with a mask featuring their favorite character or interest, and you might have to beg them to take it off!

Here are a few of our favorites:

Socially Distanced Trick or Treating: How to Hand Out Candy?

Children are often delighted by the unexpected, and these trick or treating ideas are sure to bring the element of surprise.

Here are three unique ways you can potentially reduce your chances of getting COVID-19 while handing out candy:

1. Socially Distanced Hacks for Handing Out Candy

Adults have really been stepping it up this year by sharing creative ways to distribute candy to trick or treaters at a distance of six feet or more:

  • A cardboard or PVC tube painted black and orange and held at an angle becomes the perfect chute for sending candy flying straight into open candy baskets.
  • A bit of putting green, a golf club, and some pre-filled plastic balls will delight kids who are waiting eagerly on the other end to catch them.
  • Individually wrapped goody bags clipped to the (hook free) line of an old fishing pole is a recipe for giggles as children try to grasp in the air for their candy prize.

Your imagination (and thinking through the safety of any of these candy delivery methods) is the only limit to this type of trick or treating!

2. Reverse Trick or Treating

Bring the candy to the kiddos!

If you live in a neighborhood or a community, consider having your costumed sweeties stand outside at the end of your driveway while an appropriately masked, designated candy distributor, the “candy man” perhaps, brings the candy to trick or treaters.

Consider using orange reflective tape to identify a safe, 6-foot distance but keep the fun Halloween vibe!

3. Drive-By Trick or Treating

Create a spooky haunted drive-thru by decorating a pop-up canopy tent tall enough for a car to drive underneath.

This type of trick or treating may not allow for complete social distancing, so make sure to limit your contact with other families to less than 15 minutes, the faster the better, and always wear a cloth face covering or mask.

The COVID-19 virus does not live for very long on most surfaces, so it’s not likely your child will get this virus from their candy wrappers.

If you are still worried, you can have some “clean” candy on hand for your children to enjoy after trick or treating.

Above all, don’t forget to ask your children to wash their hands with soap and warm water immediately after trick or treating and before enjoying any candy.

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When Should You NOT Go Trick or Treating?

Though trick or treating can be done safely, there are definitely good reasons not to go this year. These include:

1. When you might spread COVID-19 to others

If Halloween arrives and you have recently tested positive for COVID-19, you should plan to stay home on Halloween and isolate as much as possible until it’s been a full ten days since your illness began.

If you are having any of the symptoms of COVID-19, stay home and rest up to avoid possibly spreading illness to others while trick or treating.

In addition, if you are still under a two week quarantine after being exposed (meaning coming within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more) to someone with COVID-19, enjoy some Halloween activities from the safety of your home.

2. When Others Might Spread COVID-19 to You

Though I’ve outlined many different ways to reduce the chances of getting COVID-19 while trick or treating, there will always be some risk outside of a strict quarantine.

Households with family members who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 should strongly consider celebrating Halloween in their homes this year.

Families that are residing in areas of high COVID-19 transmission should also consider some at-home Halloween activities.

Check out this decision making tool to determine if your local community is higher risk for COVID spread.

Trick Or Treating Alternatives: How To Have Fun and Stay Healthy

If you’re staying home or are simply looking for some alternative Halloween activities for your family, I’ve got some equally exciting (and low stress) ideas that might just become a yearly tradition!

1. Halloween movie night

My husband and I have been doing this every year for almost a decade.

Make it special by Halloween-ifying classic movie theater snacks such as orange chocolate drizzled popcorn, mummy hot dogs, and of course, Halloween candy!

halloween cookies like ghosts, pumpkins, spiders, and black cats on a plate on a decorated table
Not to mention, Halloween cookies.

This is also a fun idea because you can create treats that work around any food allergies or other needs!

2. Take a spooky virtual tour around the world

If you’ve got a Harry Potter fanatic in your household, you can’t go wrong with a Harry Potter-themed virtual tour of London offered by Airbnb.

For adolescents and teens, follow a virtual plague doctor through the night time streets of Prague.

3. Have a Halloween spider egg hunt

Who knew they made black Easter eggs?!  Actually, nevermind. Amazon really does have everything

Fill them up with candy and hide them around the house for your  kids to discover. If you have older children, you can add in a few tricks along with the treats, such as some realistic-looking plastic cockroaches and spiders. 

If black easter eggs are running low, orange and gold may stay in stock longer!

4. Make an ofrenda 

Following the 2017 movie Coco, children are more interested than ever in the Mexican holiday, Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead

Like in the movie, it is traditional for Mexican families to build an ofrenda, or table filled with family photos of lost loved ones, including the lost loved one’s favorite foods and mementos. 

There are many traditional elements of a Mexican ofrenda, but you can certainly use objects from around your home and front yard. 

The goal is to connect with and remember family and friends. If you’re homeschooling, this would fall easily into a social studies curriculum. 

This year, the entire world has seen a tremendous amount of loss, and our family will be building a small ofrenda to remember our lost relatives as well as the many victims of the pandemic. 

5. Evening by candlelight

Never underestimate the power of candles to add mystery to almost any party or gathering! (Just be sure you follow fire safety protocols!)

Put the cell phones away, turn off the lights for the rest of the night, and fill your living room with all the unscented candles you have. 

Make sure that your candles are placed far away from little hands and never leave candles burning unattended. 

This is the perfect setting for a family game night, to tell or read ghost stories, cast homemade shadow puppets, or to enjoy a special seasonal meal together. 

6. Enjoy a Victorian Cemetery Picnic

It is a little known fact that picnicking in a cemetery was one of the favorite pastimes of proper Victorian ladies.  Cemeteries often served as a recreation area and oasis from city life before the creation of public parks. 

Keep in mind that this might be an activity for older kids or kids young enough not to fully understand the concept of a cemetery. 

Whether you go to enjoy the fresh air, to commune with the great beyond, or simply to avoid the crowds, it’s sure to be spooktacular! 

Take advantage of the fact that Halloween is on a Saturday this year, and enjoy an afternoon picnic among the gravestones with your age-appropriate kiddos! 

We would love to hear about all the creative ways you plan to celebrate Halloween during COVID-19. Tell us your spooky (in a good way) Halloween safety tips!

Social Distanced Halloween FAQ

How can we be safe on Halloween?

Trick or treat from a distance, in small pods, and masked. Or choose to stay home and have a special night, like a movie night or having a spider egg hunt for kids to get candy. If children go out, be sure they wash their hands before opening candy to eat. 

How can you go low contact trick or treating?

Find houses that have setup stands outside where the adult is at a distance, or make a device for your child to catch candy, like a golf club you wrap tubing around. Be sure your child wears a mask if they’re above age 2 and washes their hands before opening candy. 

Can you trick or treat during COVID?

If you do not live with any high risk individuals, you can practice socially distanced trick or treating to help children enjoy Halloween. Or find other alternatives, like a spider egg hunt or Halloween movie night!

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