Is It Safe to Trick-or-Treat During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The main risks when it comes to trick-or-treating are:

While the CDC offers many different alternatives to traditional trick-or-treating, if you're still thinking about organizing a trick-or-treat outing, independent health experts say these considerations should be front of mind. The most significant risk may hinge on who you're actually trick-or-treating with, because close contact is defined as those who are within six feet of you for more than 10 to 15 minutes.

  1. Joining a big group of trick-or-treaters: Planning to team up with a group of friends to trick-or-treat this Halloween? Know that visiting people from another household or staying close together for hours on end brings with it a risk of transmission, especially in tight quarters where kids can't keep their masks on (no haunted houses this year!).
  2. Face-to-face exposure: Hopefully, your "trick or treat?" interaction at any given doorway or front porch is very brief, which means there's less risk here. But the more households you visit, the greater the chance that germs may be spread and linger — especially as others head from door to door, too.
  3. Touching candy, toys, doors and other surfaces: It's the least concerning risk for parents, as washing your hands frequently (or using hand sanitizer) can prevent little ones from carrying germs home. Parents should be concerned if their child is likely to rub their eyes, pick their nose, or put their fingers in their mouth while out and about with dirty hands.

Is it safe to trick or treat with friends?

House parties (or any event involving welcoming your neighbors into your home) aren't safe by any means. But you can limit the COVID-19 risks associated with trick-or-treating outside your home by making sure your trick-or-treat group stays small. I wouldn't have a big pack of 10 kids from school going out together; I would limit it to 3 or 4 kids at most, and choose those who you know have also been practicing social distancing, adding that some families may choose to trick-or-treat alone simply because they have at-risk family members at home.

And of course, wear a mask. Since Halloween already involves plenty of masks, it should be easy to incorporate a face covering into your child's costume, Dr. Kesh says. Nearly all parents should also be wearing a face mask, too, but if a costume involves a mask that doesn't sufficiently cover the face, consider skipping it altogether in favor of a regular cloth mask. "Do not wear a costume mask over a protective cloth mask because it can be dangerous if the costume mask makes it hard to breathe," the CDC advises. "Instead, consider using a Halloween-themed cloth mask."

Other ways to keep your trick-or-treating session safe:

  • Establish ground rules. "Your child shouldn't be digging around a candy bowl, touching multiple pieces. Ask them to choose one and stick with it," Dr. Kesh advises. "And while it's hard to ask kids not to run around the street, you should ask them to stay as far away from people outside of your household, to continue to do social distancing even outside."
  • Don't share props, toys or bowls. Keep the swords, wands and tiaras from being passed around if you can. Ask each of your children to hold onto their own candy bags.
  • Bring hand sanitizer, and practice not touching your face. "It's always good to take a break, do a check in and give kids some hand sanitizer to clean their hands between multiple homes," Dr. Kesh adds. This is also an opportunity to give kids a break from wearing a mask if they need it, in a safe spot away from others where they can remove their mask with clean hands.

Should I answer the door for trick-or-treaters?

You're not a holiday grinch if you decide to skip handing out candy this year. "The best thing you can do to reduce your risk is to limit your interaction with others as much as possible," explains Molly Hyde, MHS, CIC, an infection control practitioner. "If you are going to hand out candy in person, make sure you are wearing a face covering over your nose and mouth when giving out candy."

Hyde says COVID-19 risk is lower if the face-to-face interaction is kept short, but you can also wash your hands frequently to ensure you're not accidentally bringing germs back into your house. It goes without saying that you should also keep all strangers outside of your home, and on your front porch or in your front yard instead. Dr. Kesh adds that at the end of the night, it might be a good idea to disinfect any doorknobs, doorbells, buzzers or other high-touch surfaces outside your home.

Should I use a candy bowl this Halloween?

If you're anxious about COVID-19, a candy bowl is a perfectly acceptable solution for trick-or-treaters and their hosts. "If you're at higher risk for severe coronavirus symptoms, I think a candy bowl is the way to go, especially if you live in a high transmission area," Dr. Kesh explains. As a courtesy to your neighbors, you might consider grouping candy in grab-and-go bags that each visitor can take — it reduces the need for kids to reach into a communal bowl. You can have a bit of fun creating Halloween goodie bags that can be simply left on your porch for visitors to take.

Should I travel to a different neighborhood to trick or treat or for an event?

The short answer: No. Officials at the CDC say that traveling to a seasonal locale for trick-or -treating or any sort of local event tied to Halloween is among the riskiest things you can do this year. The reasoning for that, Dr. Kesh explains, is that every community has a different rate of infection or COVID-19 spread. Traveling can either contribute to an outbreak in local cases in your destination, or should you become sick, your Halloween excursion could cause an uptick in cases in your own neighborhood when you return.

Should I disinfect my child's candy?

Don't freak out if your child rips open a chocolate bar and pops it into their mouth while trick-or-treating. "It isn't thought to be transmitted this way, but we always worry about the risk of touching something that's carrying infected matter," Dr. Kesh explains. "Try to really encourage your kids to hold off on eating candy until you get home, and make sure they wash their hands first."

It's true that SARS-CoV-2 particles can last up to 72 hours on plastic surfaces, but this landmark discovery was made in a laboratory setting, and most Halloween candy holds less surface area to harbor germs. Disinfecting each candy wrapper may be a bit over the top, Dr. Kesh explains, especially since you can naturally allow any potentially infectious surface germs to die off with time. "Something that you can also do is to put most of the candy away for the first three days that it's in your home, and then the rest of the candy is safe to eat after the time has passed," she advises.

 

Steps to Take when Trick or Treating

Make trick-or-treating saferillustration of a child wearing a pumpkin costume holding a Halloween treat bag wearing face masks appropriately and

  • Avoid direct contact with trick-or-treaters.
  • Give out treats outdoors, if possible.
  • Set up a station with individually bagged treats for kids to take.
  • Wash hands before handling treats.
  • Wear a mask.

 

Wear a maskillustration of two children in costume wearing face masks appropriately

  • Make your cloth mask part of your costume.
  • A costume mask is not a substitute for a cloth mask.
  • Do NOT wear a costume mask over a cloth mask. It can make breathing more difficult.
  • Masks should NOT be worn by children under the age of 2 or anyone who has trouble breathing

 

Stay at least 6 feet away from others who do not live with you

  • Indoors and outdoors, you are more likely to get or spread COVID-19 when you are in close contact with others for a long time.

 

Wash your handsillustration of a child wearing a wizard costume washing their hands

  • Bring hand sanitizer with you and use it after touching objects or other people.
  • Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Parents: supervise young children using hand sanitizer.
  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds when you get home and before you eat any treats.

 

 

Steps to Take for Other Halloween Activities

Enjoy Halloween activities and take steps to protect yourself from getting or spreading COVID-19.

Remember to alwaysillustration of a child in a bat costume carrying hand sanitizer

  • Wear a cloth mask
  • Indoors and outdoors, stay at least 6 feet away from others who do not live with you
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently

 

Decorate and carve pumpkinsillustration of friends decorating pumpkins for Halloween

  • Decorate your home for Halloween.
  • Carve pumpkins with members of your household or outside with neighbors or friends.
  • Walk from house to house, admiring Halloween decorations at a distance.

 

Visit an orchard, forest, or corn maze. Attend a scavenger hunt.illustration of two families wearing face masks while selecting pumpkins in a pumpkin patch

  • Go on an outdoor Halloween-themed scavenger hunt.
  • Visit a pumpkin patch or orchard. Remember to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently, especially after touching frequently touched surfaces, pumpkins, or apples.
  • Go to a one-way, walk-through haunted forest or corn maze.

 

Other Ideas

  • Hide Halloween treats in and around your house. Hold a Halloween treat hunt with household members.
  • Hold an outdoor costume parade or contest so everyone can show off their costumes.
  • Host an outdoor Halloween movie night with friends or neighbors or an indoor movie night with your household members.

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