NewsOct | 20 | 2020
Trick or Treat? Halloween Safety Tips from an Infectious Disease Physician
After the many changes and restrictions that children and teens have endured this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents are hoping their kids can enjoy a traditional Halloween. Trick-or-treating may not be allowed in all communities, but fortunately, there are still many activities families can do to make this Halloween special—provided they take precautions to minimize the risks of coronavirus exposure.
"Halloween needs to look different this year," says Sandra Nelson, MD, an infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. "But as with everything else, there are ways to celebrate it that can maintain the joy."
Low-Risk Halloween Activities
Many of our favorite October activities take place outside, which helps reduce risk of transmitting the virus. Dr. Nelson explains that it is important to take COVID-19 precautions—like wearing masks and physical distancing—seriously and find ways to stay vigilant without living in complete isolation. She suggests several low-risk festivities that can be done from a safe distance:
- Visiting pumpkin patches
- Picking apples
- Decorating your home
- Carving and painting pumpkins
- Preparing festive treats
- Dressing up in costumes
Long-held Halloween activities are higher risk because they include large parties and face-to-face contact at the door with strangers. When kids trick or treat in a normal year, they can flock to neighborhood streets and crowd together at the door as they gather the best candy. This scenario is simply too much close contact during a pandemic. Risk levels will depend on the rates of COVID-19 infection in your community and how much physical distance you can keep from other families.
If trick-or-treating is permitted in your community, to reduce risks:
- Go trick-or-treating in a small family-based group
- If you want to compliment kids on their costumes, do it through a window while wearing a mask
- Kids and adults should all wear cloth face coverings or surgical masks at all times
And, Dr. Nelson says, instead of passing out candy at the door, you can place a bowl of candy on your doorstep or end of your driveway. "You still want to do it in a way that avoids having a cluster of children showing up at the same bowl at the same time and digging their hands through big buckets of candy.”
A simple fix is to put candy into a small number of goodie bags and periodically refill the bucket. That way, trick-or-treaters can quickly grab a goodie bag and move along to the next house.
Should You Disinfect Halloween Candy?
"Over time, we've come to believe that surface contamination is lower risk than we previously thought," says Dr. Nelson. She explains, "Even if the virus is present, it probably doesn't remain viable on most surfaces for very long."
Another good reason not to stress about disinfecting your child's Halloween haul is that candy should always be wrapped. If you are worried about possible surface contamination, especially right after Halloween, you should always open the candy before giving it to children. Proper hand hygiene is a more important issue to focus on, so no matter how you handle the candy, remind kids to wash their hands before eating.
Are Costume Masks Good Enough?
Most costume masks are not enough to protect against COVID-19. "Halloween masks do not replace cloth or surgical masks," Dr. Nelson says
The only way a Halloween mask could replace a COVID-19 mask is if it meets the same standards. To be effective against the coronavirus, a mask should:
- Have at least two layers of breathable fabric
- Cover the nose and mouth
- Fit snugly underneath the chin, over the bridge of the nose and either loop behind the ears or tie behind the head
Everyone should wear a proper face covering when out in public. "But putting a Halloween mask on top of a face mask may not be safe," says Dr. Nelson.
Costume masks can be difficult to breathe in even when worn on their own, so it could be dangerous to put an additional layer inside one, especially if it will be worn by a young child who can't articulate if he or she is having difficulty breathing.
Instead, consider incorporating a proper face mask into the costume or using a costume that doesn't require a face mask so that the child can still wear a cloth mask.
Like trick-or-treating, parties are a high-risk activity. Risks can be reduced in the usual ways: staying six feet apart, outdoors, with masks and a smaller guest list.
"Everything is a gradation of risk," says Dr. Nelson.
If you begin to chip away at the safety measures either by having the party indoors, getting too close to one another or having a larger crowd, it will be a higher risk. But getting a few children together for an outdoor gathering is a reasonable way to capture some of the Halloween fun so many families are craving this year.
Celebrating the New Halloween With Kids
Children who are old enough to understand the pandemic are probably already aware that Halloween will be different this year. The good news is children and teens have proven this year just how resilient and adaptable they can be.
"This is a year to be creative about how to give kids new traditions to enjoy," Dr. Nelson says. "You don't have to sacrifice the holiday, you just may need to change it a little bit."
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