Trick-or-treat for Halloween? Here’s What You Need to Know
Florida Atlantic University’s Terry Adirim, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., chair and professor of pediatrics, Integrative Medical Sciences Department, and senior associate dean for clinical affairs, FAU’s Schmidt College of Medicine, provides answers to some of the most frequently asked questions and offers helpful tips regarding COVID-19 and “trick-or-treating” during the pandemic. Adirim is a physician executive with senior leadership and extensive experience in academic medicine and the federal government. Prior to joining FAU, she served as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs for the United States Military Health Systems, a $50 billion complex acute care delivery system that serves 9.5 million beneficiaries. Her expertise includes pandemic planning and response, health care quality improvement and patient safety, and health policy and management.
Should I allow my children to trick-or-treat for Halloween this year?
This depends on several factors:
What is the amount of disease in your community?
If you live in a community that is a “hot spot” or has high level of COVID circulating, you should consider alternatives to allowing your children to trick-or-treat this year. If case rates are low, then it may be safe but not zero risk. Check your state’s public health department website. For Florida, you can check your county at: https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/96dd742462124fa0b38ddedb9b25e429
What is your level of risk tolerance?
In communities with low case rates, it may be relatively safe to trick-or-treat but really depends on your tolerance for risk. The risk is not zero anywhere in the U.S. and is higher in some communities than others.
Does your child have any medical conditions or are there members of your family or others living in your home who are at high risk?
If your child has a medical condition placing him or her at higher risk for serious disease, avoid trick-or-treating and choose an alternative way to celebrate. Consult with your pediatrician for advice. If you do decide to let your children go trick-or-treating this year, avoid large crowds and indoor activities with others. Consider limiting the amount of time and locations where they are going. Also, make sure that they are wearing masks at all times. Incorporate the mask into their costume, but don’t depend on the costume’s mask for protection.
If I let my child go trick-or-treating this year, what precautions should we take?
In general, avoid large gatherings, avoid indoor activities with people outside of your household and wear face masks (not just costume masks). It would be prudent to limit the amount of time trick-or-treating and especially limit the amount of time at other people’s homes (less than 15 minutes). Make sure your children are wearing masks at all times and practice social distancing. Accompany your children to make sure they are wearing their masks and social distancing at least 6 feet apart. Carrying hand sanitizer is a good idea, too.
What are some alternatives to trick-or-treating?
There are other fun things that families and children can do that are safe or safer this Halloween:
- Neighborhoods could choose to have each family stand outside to distribute candy to passing trick or treaters. Being outdoors is less of a risk than being indoors. And everyone should wear their mask!
- Families can leave goody bags outside their doors to reduce exposure to the little ghouls and goblins who can just quickly grab a bag and go on their way.
- Families that are “cocooning” could hold a small costume party with their children and do all of the fun fall activities like making candy apples or baking cookies and pumpkin carving. Avoid dunking for apples or other activities that can transmit infection. Also, avoid indoor haunted houses.
- Do a family fun night with age appropriate Halloween-themed movies, do pumpkin carving, make caramel apples, bake cookies.
What are the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for trick-or-treating this year?
The CDC has posted guidance on Halloween activities divided by lower risk, moderate risk and higher risk activities. Lower risk activities include things families can do at home such as decorating or carving pumpkins, while moderate risk activities include one way trick-or-treating with children picking up pre-made bags of candy at neighbors’ doorsteps, and higher risk activities include those that occur indoors such as haunted houses and traditional trick-or-treating. The lists of activities are available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html#halloween.
What are the main risks when it comes to trick-or-treating this year?
With traditional trick-or-treating where a child (or adult) goes door-to-door, there are multiple exposures to people who could be infected with COVID-19. The more homes you visit, the higher the risk of the virus being passed onto the child (or adult) who could then pass the virus to a family member or someone else who is vulnerable. This is why alternatives should be considered. If a family chooses traditional trick-or- treating, they should limit the exposures, wear masks at all times and social distance as much as possible.
Can I host a Halloween party for my child outdoors?
There are several considerations in planning any parties for Halloween this year. These include size of the party, the participants, the location and what is being served. If planning a party, it’s best to limit the party to 10 or fewer people, hold the party outdoors where the risk is lower, plan activities that allow for social distancing and do not serve alcohol to the adults. Everyone also should wear masks.
Should I answer the door if get trick-or-treaters in my neighborhood?
People should consider alternatives to answering the door to trick-or-treaters. These include placing pre-prepared bags of goodies at the door so the little ones can take one and go or stand outside to deliver the candy while maintaining social distancing and wearing a mask. If there are high-risk individuals in the household, consider not answering the door to trick-or-treaters and leaving bags of treats outside the door.
Is it safe to put out a candy bowl if I don’t want to open the door for trick-or-treaters?
Putting out a tray of pre-packaged bags of goodies for the little monsters, ghouls and goblins may be a better alternative and lower risk than opening the door for all trick-or-treaters. Children (and their adults) should carry hand sanitizer while they are out. The most risk is through person-to-person contact as opposed though contact with objects, but its best to wash hands frequently and carry hand sanitizer.
Is there anywhere that provides a “safe” environment to take my children to trick-or-treat?
The safest environment is home. Alternative activities at home can include family-only activities such as decorating, dressing up, carving a pumpkin, and making candy or caramel apples. Also, you could consider hosting a Zoom party with friends.
If my neighborhood is not ideal for trick-or-treating this year, should I drive to another neighborhood?
It is not advisable to drive to other neighborhoods to trick-or-treat. Going to another neighborhood has the potential to spread infection from one area to another. It is better to stick closer to home and limit the number of houses you are visiting if you decide to trick-or-treat.
Is it safe for my child to eat the candy they get from trick-or-treating? Should I disinfect the candy?
Only consume candy that is individually wrapped. If you want to be the safest, you could wipe off the outside of the wrapper or wait 24 hours before touching the candy. After touching any items you get from someone else you should wash your hands or if hand washing is not available, use hand sanitizer. Please do not put any disinfectant on the candy.
Some people are thinking about trunk-or-treating. Is that a safe activity?
“Trunk-or-treat” is a Halloween activity in which people decorate their cars and then go to a central location, most likely a church or school parking lot. While this is not a “no risk” activity, it could be a good alternative to traditional trick-or-treating as long as the number of people involved is limited, everyone wears a mask, and people maintain physical distancing. Also, outdoor activities are lower risk than indoor activities.
What advice do you have for teens who may trick-or-treat on their own?
Alternate Halloween activities may be a better idea for teens than traditional trick-or-treating. Some of these lower-risk activities could include an outdoor party with 10 or fewer friends or a trunk-or-treat party outdoors. For any activity, it is important to limit the number of participants, wear a mask and maintain physical distance greater than 6 feet apart.
The answers to these questions are not meant as medical advice. They are intended to provide information that during a pandemic can change as we learn more about the virus and its impacts on children. The information provided is the best available as of Oct. 6, 2020. For questions about specific circumstances, consult with a physician.