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January 28, 2022

Where Every Family Matters

Trick-or-Treating in 2020

Experts weigh-in.

Halloween’s definitely a little different this year, and people are deciding how to celebrate — whether it’s having fun from a distance, trick-or-treating, enjoying Halloween at home or something in between.

While COVID-19 has interrupted many of our annual traditions, most families are still dead-set on celebrating Halloween this year. According to a recent Harris Poll survey, more than 70 percent of millennial moms are planning to make “the most” of Halloween with their families, with 80 percent surveyed saying that heading out to trick-or-treat is still at the top of their Halloween things to do list.

But is trick-or-treating in 2020 safe? Compared to activities of Halloweens past — like house parties or school dances — trick-or-treating may bring a lesser COVID-19 risk for parents to manage, especially if you’re able to head outside to relatively quiet neighborhood streets. However, there are still safety precautions you’ll want to consider, even if you do live in a rural or suburban region where there is lower coronavirus numbers.

“Of the aspects of typical trick-or-treating, there are some factors that are reassuring, being that it’s outdoors and not too difficult for kids to stay distanced,” says Issac Thomsen, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Monroe Carrell Jr. Children’s Hospital. “Though it’s still classified as a some-risk activity, trick-or-treating can still happen this year as long as families stay smart, avoid heavy crowds and get a little creative,” he says.

Believe it or not, the biggest risk in trick-or-treating isn’t the candy your kids will be receiving from each of your neighbors. According to the World Health Organization, surface bacteria isn’t thought to be the main mode of Covid-19 transmission. So, where is the real risk? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains that the most significant risk of getting sick this Halloween hinges on who you’re actually trick-or-treating with.

Trick-or-treating main risks:

1. Joining a large group: Visiting a lot of people from another household or staying close together for long periods brings a risk of transmission, especially in tight quarters. (Close contact is defined as others within six feet of you for more than 10 to 15 minutes).
2. Face-to-face exposure: Keep trick-or-treating interactions at any given doorway or front porch are brief, but know that the more households you visit, the greater the chance that germs may be spread. 
3. Touching candy, toys, doors and other surfaces: This is the least concerning risk for parents. Washing your hands frequently or using hand sanitizer can prevent little ones from carrying germs home. 

Is it safe to be with friends?

You can limit COVID-19 risks by keeping your kids outside and making sure their trick-or-treat group stays small.

“My biggest concern is crowd density and big hoards of kids roaming the neighborhood — that’s just not a good idea this year. I would keep it three to four kids at most, and coordinate with the families you know who have been practicing social distancing,” Thomsen says.

Large indoor gatherings are obviously not advised. “There’s a lot we’re still learning about this virus and how it spreads, but we have all the evidence that large indoor gatherings, even medium size (10 – 15 people), are extremely high-risk situations,” Thomsen stresses.

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.Parents should wear face masks, too, and if a costume involves a mask that doesn’t sufficiently cover the face, add a proper cloth-based one beneath it.

Other ways to keep trick-or-treating safe:

Establish ground rules. “Though we know this is primarily a respiratory airborne virus, I still would advise kids to not go digging around in big community bowls this year,” Thomsen says. “I’ve heard a lot of families are parceling candy out in grab-and-go plastic bags to maintain spacing, which is really smart.” 
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. 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. 
Disinfecting candy? There’s no need to freak out if your child rips open a chocolate bar and pops it into their mouth while trick-or-treating. “I would say just good old-fashioned hand washing and sanitizing will do the trick,” Thomsen says.
Remember those most at risk. We need to be extra mindful of the the older couples who love to sit on their porch and see all the costumes kids are wearing. Parents need to remember that adults over the age of 65 are at the highest risk.

“Young people may say, ‘Well, I’d most likely be fine even if I got it,’ and that’s probably true, but we have known many cases of confirmed transmission from an adolescent to an older adult,” Thomsen says. So be aware.

Someone Made a Creepy Halloween Candy Slide For Social-Distanced Trick-or- Treating

This DIY candy slide made out of PVC piping is a fun way to give candy to trick-or-treaters while staying six-feet away.

Of course, there are other ways to have fun this year that don’t involve door-to-door trick-or-treating. “Keep in mind, this is still a pandemic and sometimes traditions may have to adapt and look a little different, and that’s okay,” Thomsen says. “Trick-or-treating or not, parents can still make this holiday fun. I have three young kids myself and we’ve decided to do a candy scavenger hunt around the house this year.”

Other ways to safely celebrate Halloween:

1. Have a jack-o’-lantern hunt.
Much like the Easter Egg hunt, hide trinkets, candy, or whatever your children enjoy collecting and hide those things in your yard.
2. Show costumes virtually—or from afar.
Schedule a special video meeting or socially distant park gathering to model those fun costumes with friends.
3. Enjoy a walk through the neighborhood.
It might be just the sense of community you or your neighbors need, even if you’re not stopping to visit houses this year.
4. Incorporate masks into your costume.
Since masks are a part of our normal routine, why not incorporate them into costumes? Need a quick idea? Draw kitty whiskers on a plain mask for a start to a cat costume.
5. Go on a scavenger hunt.
See how many pumpkins your kids can count on doorsteps, in windows. How about black cats or other decorations? What else can they find?

About the Author

Michael Aldrich

Michael Aldrich is Nashville Parent's Managing and Entertainment Editor and a Middle Tennessee arts writer. He and his wife, Alison, are the proud parents of 18-month-old Ezra.