There are not many areas of life COVID-19 hasn’t directly impacted. Like with so many other things in 2020, families have had to try to find silver linings during this difficult time. Major milestones such as birthdays and graduations have, for the most part, been canceled, gone remote or shifted to incorporate social distance and necessary precautions.
As fall approaches, many parents may be wondering how COVID-19 will affect beloved traditions like trick-or-treating. According to Mollie Grow, M.D., a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s, families can still have fun, but may need to apply some extra creativity to Halloween this year.
“COVID has taken away a lot, especially for kids,” says Grow. “The thing that anchors us is still having a chance to celebrate things we have looked forward to. Trying to figure out different ways to honor our traditions as a family and community can lessen the pain of all the things we’re missing out on because of COVID.”
This excerpted post was originally published on the Seattle Children's On the Pulse blog.
Matthew Kronman, M.D., an infectious disease expert at Seattle Children’s, said answering the question of whether Halloween and traditions like trick-or-treating are safe is complicated.
“There are many things about Halloween that set us up for success,” says Kronman. “Trick-or-treating is outdoors, people can wear masks and you can keep distance between people. One way to approach this question is to fall back on the basic principles — limit close contact with other people, limit touching points and practice good hand hygiene.”
Determining what’s best for your family
With those principles in mind, families can think about best practices for things like passing out candy, designing costumes or visiting pumpkin patches, says Kronman.
Here are four important things to think about:
How will I pass out candy?
Kronman says leaving a bowl of candy out may not be a best practice this Halloween because of the number of people who will touch the bowl and candies inside. If families choose to put one piece of candy or a handful of candies into a bag at a time, that will limit the number of people who touch the candy but will increase the proximity between people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published recommendations for Halloween activities, stating that many traditional activities can be high-risk for spreading viruses. The CDC listed one-way trick-or-treating as a moderate risk activity, one “where individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up for families to grab and go while continuing to social-distance (such as at the end of a driveway or at the edge of a yard).” The CDC recommends people preparing goodie bags should wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after preparing the bags. The full list of Halloween activities can be found on the CDC’s website.
Families should think about their comfort level and understand the amount of risk they are willing to accept before Oct. 31.
How can I incorporate a mask into my child’s costume?
According to the CDC, masks should be worn in public settings around people who don’t live in the same household and when you can’t stay 6 feet away from others. Masks can help stop the spread of COVID-19 to others. The CDC also provides helpful advice on which masks to choose and the dos and don’ts of wearing a mask.
Kronman says incorporating a mask can be a fun activity for families. Masks can be designed to go with a costume, or children can easily draw vampire teeth or cat whiskers on a mask. Kronman says to avoid wearing plastic masks with holes, and if wearing one, a cloth mask can easily be worn underneath.
How can we distance ourselves from others?
According to the CDC, practicing social distancing in combination with other everyday preventive actions can reduce the spread of COVID-19. Wear masks, avoid touching your face with unwashed hands, and frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
If you can’t keep physical distance when trick-or-treating or while at a crowded pumpkin patch, Kronman says it’s best to avoid those activities.
“It’s really easy to get fatigued. This situation is not at all what we’re used to,” says Grow. “We’re hopeful the precautions are working, but it does take vigilance. Modeling behaviors for our children is important.”
How will I change plans if needed?
“We should be ready to adapt the planned fun based on the current guidance from public health organizations like the CDC,” advises Kronman. “If there are areas with high transmission, maybe we shouldn’t do trick-or-treating. Knowing where to find resources for the most up-to-date information is important.”
Alternative Halloween ideas
For families that choose to forgo trick-or-treating this year, Grow says there are lots of fun alternative activities they can do together.
Avoiding large gatherings is important, but families can still show off costumes by organizing a Zoom or FaceTime Halloween party with friends and family, or a socially distanced costume parade around the neighborhood.
“Every year as a family we pick a costume theme and design our own costumes,” says Grow. “This year, we’re going to try to do that still. We just might need to be more creative. I think it’s important to do things as a family.”
Below, Grow compiled a fun list of activities that families can try this Halloween:
- Make fall recipes as a family. Give kids the opportunity to pick a recipe and make it together. “My kids are so much happier when we take the time to do a recipe as a family. Let your kids help plan and prepare the meal or treat you’re making and have fun!”
- Take on a special craft project as a family. “I think crafts are a great way to spend time as a family. Pinterest has so many fun ideas, and you can pick a fall or Halloween theme.”
- Enjoy a special Halloween movie night.
- Do a family game night in costumes.
- Get active with a family dance party in costumes. Add flashlights and glowsticks.
- Trick-or-treat around the house to find hidden candy.
- Hang on to the holiday traditions you can. Decorate the house, carve or draw on pumpkins, dress up, take pictures with masks. If you have trees, you can decorate your trees in a Halloween theme. “We call them ‘quarantrees.’” For different occasions, you can choose a different theme.
- Make a family scavenger hunt around the neighborhood. Pick a fall theme — leaves, rocks, pine cones, etc. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get outside and spend time together.
- Go on a family hike and make a BINGO card. Look for things together on the trail and check off an item on the card when you see it. “We saw a family doing this, and I thought it was such a great idea!”
Practice gratitude and foster community
Grow says it is also important to practice gratitude and think of ways to come together as a community.
“For many families, one benefit of this situation is that we’ve had more time together. It allows for families to be together more — more meals as a family, more activities that pull us together instead of away from each other,” says Grow. “For our family, we practice gratitude and enjoy sharing what we’re grateful for or something that has challenged us. Family meals give us the opportunity to talk and share. It’s really foundational and contributes to raising kids who have more happiness.”
Using creativity and innovation, families can find new traditions or ways to do things, and can still connect with people as a community.
“Decorate or paint a pumpkin or rock for your neighbors. Make Halloween drawings or a greeting card for a friend or neighbor. Anything that fosters community is great,” says Grow.
No matter what families choose to do this Halloween, Kronman says these occasions mark something important. “This pandemic has strained us all, from financial worries to impacts on communities of color to the loss of family and loved ones. And throughout these stresses, there has been — at least for me — a surreal sense of time getting out of our hands. Having these bookmarks, whether it is Halloween or another holiday, are important ways to mark that we’re passing time, moving through this challenge and being resilient.”
Read more: Tips for a safe Halloween