Father and daughter making Halloween crafts Kids looking forward to a traditional Halloween – filled with trick-or-treating, big costume parties and hayrides – may need to find alternative ways to celebrate this year. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends families stay away from these typical seasonal activities this year due to the increased likelihood of catching COVID-19.

What does this mean for a beloved holiday? There are still plenty of fun, scary and engaging ways to celebrate Halloween while keeping your family safe – or safer – from infection, says Katie K. Lockwood, MD, 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.

While Halloween is still weeks away, Dr. Lockwood recommends talking to your children NOW about what they enjoy most about the holiday: Is it the candy, the costumes, cackling with friends? Once you know what their primary motivators are, you can adapt your family's Halloween preparations to better meet their individual needs, while keeping them safe.

CDC Halloween guidelines

Before adjusting your family's holiday plans, you need to understand the CDC's recent recommendations for Halloween, then find out what rules – if any – your local municipality has put in place.

The CDC strongly encourages families to avoid participating in these high-risk activities this year:

  • Door-to-door trick-or-treating
  • Trunk-or-treat events with treats handed out to large groups from the trunks of cars
  • Indoor costume parties and haunted houses
  • Hayrides and tractor rides with people not in 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."

Consider these factors when deciding which activities to participate in this year:

  • 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?

An important note about masks: Not all masks provide effective protection against COVID-19, and unfortunately, masks that come with costumes do not offer adequate protection. Remember that a protective face mask should have two layers of cloth that fit tightly and cover both your nose and mouth.

Also, do not layer masks (e.g. a protective face mask and Halloween mask) as this may affect breathing.

Lower the risk, but keep the fun: Planning a safer Halloween

Halloween 2020 can still be great for your kids. Consider these low and moderate risk activities and cater your choices based on what your child or children love best about the holiday.

Candy land: Safer alternatives to trick-or-treating

Does your kid love getting loads of different kinds of candy? Consider these alternatives to trick-or-treating:

  • 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. Consider filling the bags a few days before Halloween to avoid any residual germs on packaging.
  • Host a scavenger hunt for your children and/or a small group of friends. You can create different themes for different areas (front yard vs. back yard); create spooky riddles to help them track down the "pirate's booty" and make special gift certificates so the winner can pick the family movie, stay up an hour later or eat an extra piece of candy.
  • 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 within your family, or with a small group of friends that your child already has regular contact with.

Fun with costumes

Are costumes your favorite part of Halloween? Consider:

  • A virtual costume party where your family become real or fictional characters, then try to stay "in character" the longest. Your child will have to do some research about whoever they choose to "become" for Halloween. Extra points for accurate accents and knowing the backstory to include in conversation.
  • Encourage your child's creativity. Help them create something unique and memorable – and use props from around the house to make it happen.
  • Get the whole family involved, even pets! You know you want to make your dog an angel or your cat a hotdog. You can purchase a pet costume or make your own! Encourage your child to be creative (and try not to annoy the pet too much).

Love the scare?

  • Create or attend a haunted "forest" in your community. It should be an open-air, one-way, walk-through location and participants must wear face masks – not costume masks – and socially distance from people they don't live with.
  • Design your own scary mask and show them off on a video call with friends or family.

Other fun and lower-risk Halloween activities

  • 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 should bring their own chairs or blankets and sit at least 6 feet away from each other. You can provide individually wrapped treats and drinks to consume during the movie.
  • Plan a pumpkin decorating or carving session with your family or a small group of friends. You can set up chairs or blankets outside and scrape, carve and decorate to your heart's content.
  • Have 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, is an attending physician at CHOP Primary Care, South Philadelphia, Director of Behavioral Health Education in CHOP’s Pediatric Residency Program, and assistant professor of pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

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