Remember the years when your only Halloween concern was winning the costume contest? The holiday looks a little different—again. On top of nailing a look, you’re probably feeling the stress of the past year and a half and hoping the holiday won’t become a super-spreader event.
“If your kids are anything like mine, they are searching for costume ideas and hoping that this year will be closer to normal,” says Leila Bellah, Senior Clinical Program Manager of Pediatrics at Amazon Care.
Thankfully, there are fun ways to enjoy the holiday while also mitigating the risk of contracting or spreading COVID. First things first: Check in with your local and state guidelines a few days before Halloween. Most places (and the CDC) have given trick-or-treating the thumbs up, but have suggested some tweaks to make sure it’s as safe as possible, especially considering many little trick-or-treaters are currently too young to get vaccinated.
The CDC is also recommending staying away from any larger indoor gatherings this Halloween, and many communities cancelled or issued safety protocols for crowded public events like fall festivals, parades, and haunted houses. Plan with these guidelines in mind to keep you and your community safe.
In cases where official guidelines aren’t clear, you may have to make a judgement call about the risks you are willing to take. Here are a few things to consider:
- Vaccinations: “This has been a difficult time for kids, and they really want to get back that interaction that they’ve lost,” says Christine Conerly, Amazon Care Nurse Practitioner. “But the way kids play, if one of their little friends in their pod got it, they would all be at risk. We want social interactions with kids to be as cautious as possible.” If most of your Halloween crew is too young to be vaccinated (or if you’re in a community where vaccination rates are low), it’s still critical to be careful about the interactions you have this Halloween, as tough as that might be for your kids this holiday.
- Recent or upcoming travel: If you’ve traveled in the two weeks before Halloween or are planning to in the two weeks after, consider staying home or sticking to small outdoor gatherings. If you have recently traveled and still want to have a large indoor Halloween gathering, it’s smart to get tested (even if you’re vaccinated) 3 to 5 days after your return.
- COVID levels in your community: If you’re in an area where levels are high but some local officials are urging “normalcy,” you might still consider doing your part to stay home and help control the spread.
- Choose your events wisely: “Gatherings depend a lot on your local guidance, but also about the risk you’re willing to take,” advises Bellah. “Think about who you’ll be hanging out with and what you’ll be doing.’ If it’s a group you know are vaccinated (age permitting) and are on the same page as you when it comes to safe behavior, you won’t be taking much risk. But if an event will be unmasked, with a group you don’t know, or one where there’s the possibility of lots of physical contact, sharing foods, or any other behavior where illness easily spreads, it might be better to stick to fun Halloween activities at home.
If you decide to trick-or-treat, follow these tips to mitigate risk while enjoying the night:
- Plan a safe route ahead of time. Team up with families you know and have them make individual treat bags that kids can pick up outside. Draw up the route on a spooky treasure map or as a Halloween scavenger hunt to keep kids engaged and excited, even if you’re only going to a few houses.
- Stay masked (not just in a costume). “Costume masks are not effective substitutes for COVID masks,” says Bellah. Decorating disposable versions can sometimes render them useless. Instead, make a cloth mask out of similar fabric to the costume or buy a new Halloween-themed protective mask. If your child already has a costume mask, make sure they are wearing a protective mask underneath.
- Get creative with your candy toss. Who said you can only hand out candy from a bowl at your front door? Get a 6-foot-long tube and use it to funnel treats to kids at a distance, or put a long table on your driveway that can act as a candy shuffleboard.
- Keep overall safety top of mind, too. Be extra vigilant about the regular safety measures you’d take any year like avoiding unknown pets, using flashlights and reflective clothing on dark roads, and being mindful about food allergies. Halloween is typically one of the busier nights at most hospital emergency rooms, and a surge of COVID patients is going to put additional strain on resources this year.
If you stay home, there are still plenty of ways to have a fun night:
- Create a Halloween carnival. Turn each room of the house into a makeshift carnival booth with activities like mini pumpkin bowling, face painting, pin the bone on the skeleton, or witch’s hat ring toss. Don’t forget a candy prize for the winner.
- Make a Halloween piñata. Have your kids papier-mâché and decorate their favorite design as a weekend project (there are lots of tutorials online), fill it with their favorite treats or small toys, and then get in on the fun when they’re smashing it to bits.
- Have your own Halloween costume contest. In addition to their official costume, you can do a fun contest where your family has one hour to make a costume from anything around the house—art supplies, old clothes and hats, household items, and more can all be up for grabs.