Short answer—no, Halloween has not been canceled. COVID-19 hasn’t stopped stores from stocking their shelves with huge bags of candy and other Halloween products. But many parents are still wondering if trick-or-treating and other Halloween traditions will be safe this year.
Public health agencies are urging caution and offering a mixed bag of recommendations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends low-risk activities such as carving pumpkins. Advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes good Halloween hygiene and recommends that families should avoid large gatherings, maintain a distance of six feet from others, wear cloth face coverings, and wash hands frequently. The information from local public health agencies has been inconsistent. For example, the Los Angeles County Department of Health announced in early September that Halloween trick-or-treating will not be allowed, then, just a few days later, the county changed their guidelines to state that trick-or-treating is simply “not recommended.” The primary health concerns specific to trick-or-treating they cited are social distancing—the difficulty of staying six feet apart when children gather and go door-to-door—and the potential touching and sharing of Halloween candy.
Help from Candy Companies
Candy companies, however, have been proactively providing families with information and ideas for a safe and fun Halloween. Hershey has created an interactive website featuring a map showing COVID-19 risk levels by county so families can make informed decisions about Halloween activities. Mars, the makers of Snickers and M&Ms, launched a trick-or-treating app that will allow users to redeem virtual candy credits for real candy. Emily Oster, author of Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool and cofounder of COVID Explained, a website providing data-driven resources for parents and families, suggests that trick-or-treating, from an epidemiological perspective, may still be an appropriate choice for some families. Oster states that for this outdoor activity, if people wear face masks and the adults make an effort to maintain social distancing, “the data indicates the risk of their spreading Covid-19 is fairly low.” While Oster points out that the virus does not survive well on surfaces, she suggest that those giving out candy should not use a large communal bowl. Spread out the treats on your steps or porch so each trick-or-treater touches only one.
What Are Your Priorities?
Making Halloween plans during a global pandemic requires that we rethink our priorities. Talk with your child and other family members about what they enjoy most about Halloween. Dressing up in costumes? Eating candy? Spending time with family and friends? Scaring ourselves or others with spooky stories and decorations? Try to focus on just one or two priorities, and use these to shape your plans.
Each family must also assess their unique risk factors regarding COVID-19. Do you live in an area where the numbers are high? Are any members of your family more vulnerable, such as older adults or those with medical conditions like asthma? If so, your Halloween plans may look quite different this year.
Alternatives to Trick-or-Treating
Trick-or-treating is not the only spooky way to get candy. Here are just a few creative ideas for Halloween activities.
1. Drive-By Events: Many communities offer drive-thru Halloween events, such as Halloween at the Park in Jamesville, New York. Families stay inside the safety of their cars as they drive by Halloween displays. If a formal event is not available in your community, consider driving by a local cemetery or other spooky site while listening to Halloween music.
2. Halloween Trails: Halloween trails are like outdoor haunted houses. Many park districts and public libraries create family-friendly Halloween trails with spooky displays and decorations. Or head out to the country for a walk through a haunted corn maze. Check for listings in your area.
3. Indoor Candy Hunt: If you’re staying indoors for Halloween, a candy hunt is a fun alternative to trick-or-treating. Gather a collection of wrapped candy and hide the pieces around the house (no peeking!). For little ones, hide the candy in more obvious spots, such as under a pillow on the couch. Older children may be up for more challenging hiding places, like behind a light fixture. Pro tip—count the candies before you hide them, so you’ll know when all the pieces have been found.
4. Candlelight Ghost Stories On Halloween night, gather around the flickering light of a candle or fireplace and tell or read some spooky stories. Young children enjoy silly tales like Dr. Seuss’s pale green pants in What Was I Scared Of? For older children, we recommend a collection such as A World Full of Spooky Stories: 50 Stories to Make Your Spine Tingle by Angela McAllister.
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Fenn, Mike, “Ten Ways to Enjoy Halloween from the Comfort of Your Own Home,” 2020 Morrison, Leslie, “Data-Driven Parenting in the Age of COVID-19,” 2020 VanSchmus, Emily, “11 Festive Ways to Spend Halloween at Home Instead of Trick-or-Treating,” 2020