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Is Halloween Canceled? A Guide to Trick-or-Treating Safety

All your 2020 Halloween questions, answered by the experts.

There are a few notable things about Halloween this year — there will be a rare full moon, we’re going to be setting our clocks back an hour, and Halloween 2020 falls on a Saturday, so you can stay up a little later sorting/pounding candy and reading R.L. Stine. But of course the biggest difference this year is that the CDC has some serious things to say about trick-or-treating.

Many traditional Halloween activities can be high-risk for spreading viruses,” the CDC said in a statement. “There are several safer, alternative ways to participate in Halloween.” Halloween, and more specifically, trick-or-treating in a pandemic poses a health risk. Assessing that risk depends on a number of obvious and not-so-obvious factors. To make sense of it all, we spoke to experts to answer all your burning Halloween questions.

Is it safe for me to go trick-or-treating with my kids?

First, some ground rules: If you’re sick, don’t go. If you have symptoms of coronavirus or flu, don’t go. Trick-or-treat only with people you live with (sorry, your kids’ friends can’t join this one). And stay 6 feet apart from people not in your household. This part is pretty simple because you’ve already been doing a lot of these things for months. Just follow all the same CDC guidelines for coronavirus as you normally would. What’s key to remember here is to keep monitoring your specific area, and don’t go if there is an uptick in cases in your region.

Ok, sure, but how do I find that out? 

Using the COVID risk assessment tool, find your area and figure out how risky it’d be to go out. If you live in a red zone, it’s best to stay indoors and do some of the CDC recommended “low risk” activities like carving a pumpkin with members of your household, decorating your living space with your  kids, having a virtual Halloween costume contest, or a scary movie night with people you live with. Green zones indicate that trick-or-treating may be safe, but also refer to your local government guidelines for further instructions since situations can change rapidly.

Got it. We’re in the clear! The kids are going out with me while mom stays home to hand out candy. But it seems like she’s in a less safe situation, right?

First, make sure she’s not handing out candy if she’s sick or has symptoms. If she really really wants to, make sure she wears a face mask covering both your mouth and nose and use duct tape to mark 6-foot lines in front of your home that lead to your front door. As for your hands, “wearing gloves couldn’t hurt but if you’ve ever been trick-or-treating you know it’s kind of difficult to keep up with the pace of sanitizing between each trick-or-treater because the kids come fast,” says Dr. Logan Spector, pediatric epidemiologist.

Since only a quarter of Americans plan on going trick-or-treating with their kids, the pace at which people arrive at your door may be slower this year. “If I was handing out candy – which I’m not this year – I’d be sanitizing my hands between each person who came by,” says Dr. Eric Ball, pediatrician in California.

So avoiding the door candy is easier and safer. But how? We can understand you not wanting to put a bucket out there for trick-or-treaters — the little jerk that takes all the candy in 15 minutes exists in every neighborhood. Instead, maybe you can get creative.

There are plenty of ways to get candy to kids from six feet. Make a trebuchet. Try this distancing Halloween hack using a tube, or simple things like putting a table between you and trick-or-treaters to create distance (make sure to disinfect the table frequently if you’ll have candy on it). 

If we dress up and go out, do we have to do a double mask — a cloth mask under the Halloween costume mask? The kids are going to hate that.

Sorry, but Ball, Spector, and research all say yes. Halloween costume masks aren’t made out of the best material – usually plastic or cheap cloth – and they have breathing holes. Wear a protective CDC recommended mask under your costume mask if you go out, says Ball.  Remember that the best mask is made of two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers your mouth and nose and leaves no gaps around your face. Consider using a Halloween-themed cloth mask if you don’t want to put more than one mask on your face. And carry extras with you if you’re going out since these aren’t allowed to be swapped or shared. 

OK, so we’re wearing our costumes and safely have our masks on underneath them. Can we stop at a haunted house?

Nope. Along with the pandemic, Halloween is the beginning of the cold and flu season, so it’s extra important to maintain social distance this year. Ball says it’s best to avoid places where it will be hard to distance yourself from others. This includes things like haunted houses, where people try to jump out and scare you by getting into your personal space. Another reason to avoid haunted houses is the scientific evidence around shouting leading to super spreader events. The CDC currently lists going to an indoor haunted house as a “higher risk activity” because people may be crowded together and screaming. Going to an open-air, one-way, walk-through haunted forest where mask use and distance is maintained is listed as “moderate risk”. Use your discretion depending on your area and how well other people are following the rules.

What if I’m still uncomfortable with the whole going out thing?

You’re not alone. Despite these safety measures, some are still choosing to avoid it entirely. “I don’t plan on having my kids go trick-or-treating this year. Unfortunately, trick-or-treating violates my basic rules of COVID safety which are to avoid close contact, avoid confined spaces, and avoid large crowds,” says Ball. “Even though it’s outdoors you still have people who are way too close together. It’s an undue risk on our community.” 

Halloween is going to be weird this year, huh?

Like so many other things in life, this year will just require getting more creative than usual. But if all else fails, there are always Halloween dad jokes to bring some laughter to your family.