To trick-or-treat or not to trick-or-treat? We speak with experts to break down the risks
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For many kids, Halloween is the most exciting holiday of the year. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s an extra layer of precaution that needs to take place in order to celebrate safely.
Individual communities will likely make their own decisions about whether trick-or-treating is allowed, says David White, a family doctor in Toronto who has contributed to pandemic planning, adding that a lot of what families do to celebrate will come down to individual comfort levels.
“What happens with school openings will also give us huge insight into whether something like Halloween is possible or not,” says White.
But whether you’re hitting streets in your costumes or staying in for a spooky movie night, celebrating Halloween is about having fun. Here’s a look at some common Halloween activities and how safe they are. Of course, whatever you do, be sure you are following the public health guidance for your area.
Although going door to door for candy might seem like an ideal vector for COVID-19, it’s actually inherently pretty safe, according to Sumontra Chakrabarti, head of infectious diseases at Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont. “It’s outdoors, and it’s a short interaction,” he explains, adding that trick-or-treating in a building, like an apartment, would be much riskier.
That said, if you do go out trick-or-treating, you should keep distance from people who aren’t in your bubble or family group and avoid yelling loudly or singing.
As for the virus being spread on treats themselves, Chakrabarti says that COVID-19 is actually not spread on surfaces the way we once thought. “At the beginning, people were keeping groceries outside, or wiping them down, but you don’t have to do any of that. The vast majority is spread through respiratory droplets by people who are usually indoors and in close contact with each other for a prolonged period of time,” he explains.
While the risk of surface contamination on candy is very small, White says some people will feel more comfortable wiping down treats or leaving them for 48 hours before eating it “and that’s fine.”
As far as COVID-19 goes, anything outdoors is safer than indoors. While some areas of the country can be quite cold on Halloween, if weather permits, a small outdoor gathering is relatively safe, says White. “You have a few families who come over with their kids and each of the families sits in their own bubble together. As long as they’re more than six feet apart from the other groupings, they don’t need to have their masks on and they can sit and chat in their regular costumes and have some goodies.”
When it comes to serving food, the biggest risk is having people all huddled together at the snack table, says Chakrabarti. To be safer, you could have individual portions, or encourage each family to bring their own snacks and drinks. “And you don’t want to be huddling together on the deck, singing karaoke. You have to remember that COVID-19 is still there if you have an outdoor party. It’s safer, but keep the two-metre distance.”
Chakrabarti says his biggest concern leading up to Halloween is big indoor parties, particularly in the teen and university age groups. “The problem we’re seeing is that when you have indoor gatherings people are yelling, screaming, singing, that kind of stuff. That then increases the risk quite a bit.”
And don’t be fooled into thinking your costume protects you, says White. “Costume masks do nothing to protect from COVID-19,” he says, adding that he believes a lot of creative Halloween COVID-19 masks will be available. Of course, if you’re bubbling with another family, it would be perfectly fine to hold an indoor gathering with that family. Keep in mind though, that if cases rise in your community after the start of school, you may wish to keep your distance from grandparents again, if you had brought them into your bubble.
5 Ways to Celebrate Halloween during the COVID-19 pandemic
1. Festive Virtual Call: Dress up the family and set up a video call with extended family or a group of friends. Have some Halloween-themed snacks on hand and make sure you allow each child a chance to show off their costume.
2. Limited Trick or Treat: Plan ahead with a few neighbours and only have your respective kids go to those houses. You’re limiting interactions to just a few people that you trust have been taking similar precautions you have.
3. Costume Parade: Load the kids up in the car the day of Halloween and pop by friends or family’s houses to show off costumes from the porch or sidewalk. If you wish, bring small bags of treats to deliver to cousins and friends.
4. Scavenger hunt: Make a list of common Halloween decorations—a pumpkin, witch, spider’s web, etc.—and go out with your kids to find them around the neighborhood.
5. Movie night: If your comfort zone is right inside your house, then stay in with your family or bubble and watch a Halloween-themed movie or show. Serve festive snacks and drinks and encourage everyone to wear costumes.