How to Have a Safe Halloween in the Time of COVID-19
As Halloween approaches, families are looking for ways to celebrate while maintaining safety during the pandemic. Many traditions like wearing costumes and carving pumpkins can be done—as long as you follow precautions such as masking and physical distancing.
Experts at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles are here to provide guidance on how to have a frightfully good time while also staying safe.
“Activities like going to a pumpkin patch or apple-picking are fairly safe because they are outdoors and people can keep distanced from each other,” says Marisa Glucoft, MPH, Executive Director of Accreditation and Licensing, Infection Prevention and Emergency Management at the hospital. “I suggest going to large outdoor venues where it’s easier to achieve physical distancing and avoid crowds.”
Glucoft does not recommend trick-or-treating, especially when children from different households are in close proximity together. Instead, she suggests going to a few homes of known neighbors or friends who are vaccinated.
While kids and adults can partake in outdoor Halloween fun, it’s important to remember that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is still high in many places, especially for children.
“In many parts of the country, COVID-19 transmission rates are just as high or higher than last year, kids under 12 are not vaccinated and there’s an even more contagious strain of the virus [the Delta variant] circulating,” says Glucoft.
But there are still lots of ways to have spooky good time. Carol Hamamoto, Manager of Child Life and Expressive Arts and Therapy at CHLA, offered some suggestions from the Child Life team—all of which are geared toward children and designed to spark good fun.
A Halloween Walk
No. 1 on her list: A Halloween night walk, during which families can dress up in costumes, wear face masks, stay six feet from others and stroll around their neighborhood admiring spooky decorations. Hamamoto explains that while this approach captures the spirit of being out and about, it also protects families from potentially spreading or getting COVID-19.
“The bottom line is that this situation isn’t optimal for anyone,” she says about the challenge of celebrating Halloween during a pandemic. “At least if you dress up and do a walk, there are portions of the tradition that feel the way they always do.”
Note that a costume mask is not a substitute for a mask that protects against COVID-19, and costume masks should not be worn over face masks because it could make breathing more difficult.
Another option for celebrating Halloween during the pandemic: “Boo Baskets”—self-contained packages full of toys, activities, and, of course, goodies.
Residents of some communities have exchanged these baskets for years; the idea behind them is to provide friends and loved ones with a smorgasbord of choices to celebrate the spooky holiday. (If you receive a basket, you can say you’ve been “boo-ed.”)
The coronavirus doesn’t change much about the boo-basket approach, though Hamamoto was careful to note that people should maintain good hand hygiene while arranging the boxes so as not to inadvertently spread germs, and should deliver the baskets in contactless fashion, also to minimize the likelihood of transmission.
"You can really personalize the baskets,” she says. “It’s a great way to share some kindness."
Adventures on Wheels
A “reverse Halloween parade” can be a great way to see friends while avoiding close contact. Families can take turns driving around to check out their friends’ costumes and decorations from the safety of the car, while everyone poses at their home in costume. Just make sure to follow all traffic safety laws and watch out for children who may still be out exploring on Halloween.
Adventures at home
There also are many opportunities for families to have fun in their own homes.
As you put out those lawn decorations, you could consider creating a visual scavenger hunt in your yard. People driving or walking by could look for various items among your decorations. Post a sign (easily readable from a distance) with a list of the items that passers-by should look for.
Hamamoto says parents can engineer a self-contained scavenger hunt, decorate a “haunted” gingerbread house, or even come up with an escape room. Other options include a candy hunt, or an in-house trick-or-treating extravaganza, where kids can searching in different areas of the home.
She also suggests a movie night, and getting in the spirit by setting up a tent to watch with flashlights while wearing Halloween costumes. Glucoft says that any of these concepts are great options for families who have been sheltering-in-place together.
According to Hamamoto, the bottom line is to be creative.
“This is an opportunity to come up with some new traditions,” she says. “Ask your kids how they’d like to celebrate. Allow them to think creatively. And acknowledge that it’s going to be different.”
It’s important to stay safe
However you choose to celebrate Halloween this year, Glucoft says that if plans involve people from outside the household, especially unvaccinated children, families should be mindful of wearing face coverings, maintaining physical distance, and practicing good hand hygiene (washing hands a few times each hour).
If families plan to visit with others for outdoor parties, they should keep group sizes small and ensure that all eligible attendees have been vaccinated.
“At this point in the pandemic, it’s more about risk reduction than risk elimination,” she said. “You’ve got to keep that in mind.”
Although news reports suggest that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could potentially approve a vaccination for children ages 5 to 11 by the end of October, that would not be enough time for a child to be considered fully vaccinated.
“The vaccination regime includes two shots several weeks apart,” says Glucoft, “So even if the vaccine is approved by the end of the month, children under 12 will still be vulnerable. It’s best to put into place all the safety practices that we know work, like masking and distancing, this Halloween.”