How to Celebrate Another Halloween Safely during COVID-19

Published on in Health Tip of the Week

Father and daughter making Halloween crafts Kids looking forward to a more traditional Halloween – filled with trick-or-treating and costume parties – may get their wish this year. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently relaxed last year’s strong recommendations to avoid most types of seasonal group activities due to COVID-19.

What does this mean for a beloved holiday? More options for celebrating Halloween while still keeping your family safer from infection, says Katie K. Lockwood, MD, MEd, an attending pediatrician at CHOP Primary Care, South Philadelphia and assistant professor of pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“With the return to normal activities this school year, I would expect more trick-or-treaters compared to last year,” Dr. Lockwood says. “The CDC has said trick-or-treating should be OK this year as long as children stay outside and in small groups.”

To make the most of Halloween 2021, Dr. Lockwood recommends talking to your children now about what they enjoy most about the holiday, what they liked or disliked about how your family celebrated last year, and any traditions they’d like repeat or resume from previous years.

“For example, my kids loved the block party we had last year with our neighbors so much that they requested to do it again this year instead of trick-or-treating,” Dr. Lockwood says. “So perhaps some of our creative pandemic solutions for a socially distanced Halloween will become lasting traditions for this holiday.”

2021 Halloween guidelines

Before adjusting your family's holiday plans, you need to understand the CDC's updated guidelines for Halloween, then find out what rules – if any – your local town, county or state have put in place.

The CDC continues to encourage families to avoid participating in these higher-risk activities this year:

  • Door-to-door trick-or-treating with large groups of people
  • Trunk-or-treat events in densely packed parking lots
  • Indoor costume parties and haunted houses, unless participants remain masked (two layers of fabric covering both nose and mouth, not a Halloween mask)
  • Hayrides and tractor rides with people not from your household
  • Attending fall festivals that draw large crowds

"The CDC discourages activities where you can't remain physically distant," Dr. Lockwood says. "It's not as simple as banning certain activities; it's more a matter of determining your family's risk level and adapting your behaviors to meet that level."

A key difference between this year and last is the ready availability of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Most trick-or-treaters fall into the ‘under 12’ age range, who are still ineligible for a COVID vaccine at this time,” Dr. Lockwood says. “It’s important for parents to consider the risks of their child's Halloween plans based on their local COVID-19 rates, family risk factors and personal preferences.”

When determining which activities your family should participate in this year, consider:

  • What is the COVID-19 infection rate in your area?
  • Does the event draw people from nearby areas with higher infection rates?
  • Does the event allow you to remain physically distant (6 feet away from others)?
  • Will all participants be wearing face masks?

Safer trick-or-treating tips

  • When dispensing candy: Create opportunities for social distancing among trick-or-treaters. Consider putting out a few bowls of candy spread apart or having a table with individually wrapped candy spread across it, so kids can easily grab one and move on.
  • When you are done trick-or-treating: Wash your hands. Everyone should wash their hands after trick-or-treating and before anyone eats any candy.
  • Get immunized: To decrease your child’s chance of getting sick this holiday, consider getting them immunized against both the seasonal flu and COVID-19, when eligible.

Alternatives to trick-or-treating

Even if your family decides to forgo trick-or-treating again this year, you can still have a fun Halloween. Consider these lower risk activities and cater your choices based on what your child loves best about the holiday.

Partner with friends to create individual treat bags. Talk to your neighbors or parents of your child's friends about exchanging goody bags filled with a variety of small treats. (Not all have to be food related!)

Host a scavenger hunt. Create different themes for different areas, spooky riddles to help them discover the next clue, and prizes for the winners.

Bust out the piñata. Purchase or make a piñata and fill it with individually wrapped treats. Then, hang it outside and let your kids take turns trying to break it open. This activity is best done with a small group of people your child has regular contact with.

Host a virtual costume party where your family or friends become real or fictional characters, then try to stay "in character" the longest.

Create or attend a haunted "forest" in your community. It should be an outdoor, one-way, walk-through location and all participants should wear face masks – whether they’ve been vaccinated or not – to keep everyone safer.

Host an outdoor movie night for family or a few friends. A white sheet or the side of your house can serve as a projection screen if you don't have one. Participants can bring their own chairs or blankets, and you can provide individually wrapped treats and drinks.

Plan an outdoor pumpkin decorating or carving session with your family or a small group of friends.

Host a streaming party. If you have a subscription to a streaming service, there's bound to be a selection of Halloween classics, fear-filled favorites and new releases to watch.

Remember 3 rules

No matter how you choose to celebrate Halloween this year, remember to continue following COVID-19 guidelines: wear your face mask, wash hands frequently and remain physically distant from others. By following these three simple rules, we'll all be able to enjoy the holiday safely.

Katie K. Lockwood, MD, MEd, is an attending physician at CHOP Primary Care, South Philadelphia, Director of Behavioral Health Education in CHOP’s Pediatric Residency Program, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and host of Primary Care Perspectives podcast.

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