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How Doctors and Parents Are Safely Celebrating Halloween During the Pandemic

trick-or-treating during covid-19
Brianna Gilmartin / Verywell

Key Takeaways

  • This year, get creative and enjoy Halloween activities at home with the people in your home.
  • Avoid participating in indoor activities with people outside of your household to protect yourself and slow the spread of COVID-19.
  • If you do take your favorite Halloween activities outside of your home, take steps to protect yourself. Wear a mask and stay socially distanced from others. 

Halloween will look quite a bit different in 2020. The holiday is traditionally ushered in with ghoulish delight and spooky surprises. This year, it has been marred by the very real fear of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While experts haven't gone so far as to completely cancel Halloween, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a few directives for people wondering whether they should celebrate the holiday and if so, how they can do so safely.

Assess the Situation

First thing's first: If you have tested positive for COVID-19, or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 within the last 10 days, then those in your household—including your kids—need to skip trick-or-treating or giving out treats this year.

You also need to avoid any activities that involve people outside of those who live in your home—whether or not you are showing symptoms, says Ashlesha Kaushik, MBBS, MD, FAAP, an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) spokesperson and member of the Iowa AAP Board of Directors.

“Asymptomatic contacts are a big driver of this virus," Kaushik tells Verywell, adding that if you test positive and are isolating for 10 days, you also need to be feeling well and have no fever (without help from medication) before you can leave your home and be around other people.

Kaushik also advises that you check the conditions in your area before deciding how you celebrate Halloween. "In states where cases are high (as of this writing, that’s the midwest and parts of the southeast) it’s wisest to celebrate with family at home or virtually with friends,” says Kaushik, who is also the medical director of pediatric infectious disease at UnityPoint Clinic in Sioux City, Iowa. 

It's important to check the situation in your community, too. Even if the rate of cases in your state is low, the rates in communities near you might be high.

What To Avoid on Halloween

Even if you live in an area with a lower rate of COVID-19, you should still avoid partaking in high-risk Halloween activities, such as those that take place indoors with people not in your household or those that involve crowds.

This means that many of our traditional Halloween activities, such as costume parties, are better off skipped this year. Here are some other popular Halloween activities to avoid, as well as a few favorites that can be modified to be safer.

Trick-or-Treating

You'll want to avoid trick-or-treating this year—or at least, you won't want to do it in the traditional sense with kids in large clusters going door to door for candy.

“Even if you have face coverings, it’s not safe to be going to multiple houses where you don’t know the health status of the people inside. It’s also difficult for kids to maintain social distance as they all step in to reach for candy,” says Mobeen Rathore, MD, CPE, FACPE, FIDSA, FAAP, chief of infectious diseases and immunology at Wolfson Children’s Hospital and a professor at the University of Florida, in Jacksonville, Florida. “It’s very concerning. It shouldn’t be done.”

Haunted Houses and Hayrides

Don’t visit haunted houses or go to parties outside your home. It’s hard to know for sure whether a particular indoor space has adequate ventilation and airflow. Without those necessities, potentially infected particles can linger for hours—meaning you could breathe them in.

Don’t go on hayrides with people who are not in your household. Screams of delight (or fright) means a higher risk of potentially infected droplets spreading, especially if you’re crowded on a vehicle that doesn’t leave enough room to socially distance.

Stay Close to Home

Don’t travel outside your community if yours is currently experiencing a high rate of COVID-19 cases—or vice versa. Otherwise, you put yourself and others at risk. 

3 Ways To Make Halloween Safer 

Despite the many things that should be avoided this year, many generations-old favorites can absolutely be enjoyed. You'll just need to approach them differently.

Go Outside (Socially Distancing and Wearing a Mask)

If you must go trick-or-treating, make a modified plan that ensures you and your family have minimal contact with only a few close friends. Kaushik suggests leaving wrapped treats in each other’s mailboxes or handing off packaged sweets to each other from your doorsteps.

If you want to give out candy, your best bet is sitting outside and distributing the goodies from there. Rathore points out that leaving a big bowl out on its own is not a good idea. It invites a cluster of kids to gather at once, making it harder for them to socially distance.

Make sure that everyone—including all kids over the age of 2—wears a mask.

Stay at Home and Go Online

Decorate your living room and turn it into your personal haunted house. You can make videos of it and share them with friends and family online.

Tuning in to your social media feeds is a great way to share your Halloween spirit. You can dress up as you normally would on Halloween and join friends for a Zoom party. Kids (and adults!) can munch on their favorite sweets and take turns sharing ghost stories. 

How to Have a Fun Halloween at Home

However you decide to observe Halloween this year, the lowest-risk options involve celebrations at home, whether it’s indoors or in your backyard.

Mobeen Rathore, MD

Be flexible with planning, validate your children’s ideas, and make them feel like part of the planning process.

— Mobeen Rathore, MD

If you plan to partake in any of the activities the CDC deems to be moderate-risk—which is anything that requires you to venture away from your home or be outside around others—there are several steps you need to take to stay safe.

Wear a protective mask that covers your nose and mouth (costume masks don’t count), remain socially distanced from others, keep your hands away from your face, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water when you get home.

If you’re taking anything from the outside back into your home—candy packets, stickers, toys—clean them with disinfectant wipes or put them aside for a couple of days before handling them. 

Having the right attitude goes a long way to making Halloween safe and fun. These general recommendations can ensure you have a safe and spooktacular Halloween that kids will remember—in a good way!—for years to come. 

Give Your Kids Options

Judy Chen’s 8-year-old son is sitting out trick-or-treating this year, but he gets to pick his favorite candy at the supermarket. A refreshing change (and perhaps being able to keep the candy all to himself!) is enough to make this Halloween feel special to him.

Beyond candy choices, let your kids have a say in planning the rest of Halloween night, too. “Be flexible with planning, validate your children’s ideas, and make them feel like part of the planning process,” says Rathore, who is also an AAP vice-chair and Diversity and Inclusion Champion. "When kids feel a bit of ownership, they’ll look forward to it and not feel as bad about missing out on the usual Halloween activities."

Spotlight Safe Traditions

Despite the many activities on CDC’s high-risk list, many fun options remain safe—and some might already be favorites in your household. 

The Veilleux family, in Kittery Point, Maine, will be going forward with their family-themed Halloween costume tradition—something they have had for many years. They’ve done French mimes, the Scooby-Doo gang, and this year it's the Addams Family. They’re even considering posing for a special family portrait.

Lucky for them, the Veilleux's also live near a candy outlet where they’ll be picking up their favorite candy, and a flashlight corn maze, which they’ll tackle as a family “to add an edge of fear factor,” says mom Victoria. To cap off the night? A late showing of The Addams Family movie, of course. 

Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, will be watching a movie with her teen from home just outside of Chicago. Thanks to a neighbor who bought a big screen, they’ll be able to enjoy the film—socially distanced, outside, and with masks—at a nearby park. 

Get Creative

The many things that make October 31st feel like Halloween are the crafting efforts built into the costumes and decorations leading up to the day. Why not make them the main event? Given that the holiday falls on a Saturday this year, Chen and her son will be taking the earlier part of the day to create his Ninjago costume together. 

You can also make a crafting party out of it with your kids. Break out the spooky cupcakes (better yet, bake and decorate them together), carve pumpkins, and pipe in Halloween-themed music, such as music from movies like The Addam’s Family, Ghostbusters, The Phantom of the Opera, etc.

Brittany Noble’s 6- and 8-year-old will be taking part in a socially-distanced costume parade on bikes with a few neighborhood friends in Lincoln, Rhode Island. They’ll also be playing yard games and, when it gets dark, making s'mores over a fire pit. 

For mom Elizabeth Tran Wong, in Alameda, California, the front door lights will be out as they focus on a family celebration in the backyard for their three kids (ages 5, 8, and 11). She plans to concoct a “bubbly brew” activity using dry ice, as well as a treasure hunt and family costume parade in the backyard. Her oldest will be trick-or-treating virtually with her friends on Roblox

Stay Positive

The pandemic has been a drag for kids in many parts of the country, from limited time with friends in school to canceled sports seasons. Missing out on Halloween can feel like another letdown. However, if you highlight the upside, kids are more likely to be excited about the festivities this year, too. 

“My 6-year-old said ‘Oh, we won’t be able to go out,’ but I told her it will be super fun,” Kaushik says. Her kids (3, 6, and 8 years old) are looking forward to putting on their superhero costumes and parading around the living room to music—all of which will be captured on video and shared with family and friends.

Kaushik is also planning a treasure hunt around the house. “The idea is to remain socially distanced but emotionally connected.” 

What This Means For You

Just because the pandemic has put a damper on the usual Halloween fun doesn’t mean you have to cancel the holiday together. Be flexible and re-imagine your favorite activities for these risky times: Enjoy the holiday in your home, or, if you do venture out, wear a mask, keep it socially distanced, and use proper hand hygiene.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). COVID-19: Holiday Celebrations. Updated October 19, 2020.

  2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the U.S. Updated October 20, 2020.

  3. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Health Department Directories - STLT Gateway. Updated October 20, 2020.

  4. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). How to Select, Wear, and Clean Your Mask. Updated August 27, 2020.

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