Arts & CultureKiddie Dope

How to Do Halloween Safely in a Pandemic

The Avengers: Earth’s mask-iest heroes. Credit: Kristen Morales

For those of you who have been playing by the rules these past six months or so—wearing your mask and hanging around the house more than you ever have in your entire life—I heard the collective groan when we all came to the same realization not long ago: Seriously, we have to lose Halloween, too?

Halloween is 2020 style this year, adding a new level of scary. But depending on your situation and COVID risk-tolerance, it doesn’t mean you have to sit this one out. Is the holiday foolproof? Nope. But are there ways you can mitigate potential exposure to COVID-19? You bet. Flagpole talked with Travis Glenn, professor of environmental health science at the University of Georgia College of Public Health and also checked the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for holiday gatherings. Here are some ideas for families who want to cling to a small bit of normalcy in what is otherwise the most insane year any of us has experienced. 

Keep It Small: First, gone are the days when kids can meet up with other roving bands of kids and take on a neighborhood en masse. Sorry, guys. This year, keep to your family or tight-knit friend group. If you have kids attending school with other kids, you could extend your circle to those folks, too. But the point is to limit exposure and mixing of groups.

Avoid Crowds: Some neighborhoods see hundreds of kids every year. I know a lot of kids go outside of their regular neighborhood to trick-or-treat, and that’s fine—but maybe consider a slightly less popular neighborhood this year. Where I live, for example, parts of the neighborhood see hundreds of kids, while other parts barely get a dozen—but people are still home and willing to give out candy! The goal here is to spread out and keep kids from bunching together.

Wear a Mask: Yes, it’s Halloween, the official holiday of masks. But still, keep it safe and mask up. Maybe you incorporate it into your costume, Maybe it’s on under a costume mask, Whatever you do, just be sure your child keeps it on while they’re out, just in case there are more kids about than you anticipated. Also, note that a costume mask is not a substitute for a cloth mask, and be careful if you have a costume overlapping with a cloth mask—the layers could make it hard to breathe.

No Snacking: Wearing a mask means it’s harder to sneak a treat before you get home. This year, resist the urge to dig through your candy bag (and parents, this is where you need to put your foot down). “You don’t know what’s happened to the candy between the time it was packaged and the time it got distributed to you,” says UGA’s Glenn. “Make sure the kids wash their hands before they go out, use hand sanitizer along the route, and when they’re done, make sure they wash their hands thoroughly.”

Glenn recommends setting aside some candy at home—candy that you purchase, so you know where it’s from—so kids can have a treat on Halloween night. Then, put the candy away for as many days as you can—every day decreases the odds of germs clinging to the packaging. If you can wait a week, says Glenn, great! But even 72 hours gives families extra protection. “The period of time you set it aside depends on your risk tolerance,” he says. What you want to avoid is rubbing the candy wrapper on your fingers and then licking them. Don’t get too nervous about this—again, consider your level of risk. Any day you can let that newly-gotten candy sit to kill any germs on the wrappers, the more you’re lowering your risk.

Pretend You’re a Restaurant: Halloween candy is essentially your take-out container. You didn’t make it, but you’re handling it and sending it off with someone. “You’re probably not thinking you should be wearing a mask inside your own home while you’re preparing candy to be distributed,” Glenn says. But it’s what we should be considering if we’re getting ready to hand out candy. “I’m going to wear a mask inside my own home. I’m going to wash my hands. I’m going to be as safe as someone working in a restaurant would be if I’m getting takeout.”

This might be the best reason to avoid snacking on that candy before Halloween—just keep it in its original bags by the door, and then, when it’s Halloween night, don your mask and empty the bags into your container.

Distribution Method: Not everyone has a “candy chute” or “candy slide” or whatever fun contraption you’re putting together to shoot candy to waiting kids. If it’s just you and your stoop, then you have some safe options. For example, you can use a smaller bowl to scoop candy into a second bowl that kids pick from. Or, you can use tongs or gloved hands to place candy into kids’ buckets. What you want to avoid, though, is a bunch of small hands digging through one bucket of candy. That’s not safe.

A better option recommended by the CDC is “one-way trick-or-treating” (that’s a new term for me), where individual treat bags are set out on a table and kids only touch what they take. Assembly precautions still apply, though.

Bottom line, be cautious. Even though the coronavirus doesn’t spread very readily through surface contamination, it’s better to always err on the side of caution—do what makes you comfortable. CDC guidelines recommend Halloween activities such as small, open-air costume parties (no screaming, please) or bringing your hand sanitizer to a pumpkin patch. Traditional trick-or-treats (as well as trunk-or-treats) are considered higher risk activities.

If that means, in the end, you skip Halloween, that’s fine. Don’t stress yourself out. Besides, we still have Thanksgiving and Christmas to get through.