Halloween will be special this year for several reasons. It lands on a Saturday, there’s a rare blue full moon and night owls will get one extra witching hour thanks to daylight saving time. Also, it’s occurring during a global pandemic.
Fear not, horror fiends, local public health experts are giving the green light to participating in certain pandemic-friendly Halloween activities. There are other traditions, though, that may just have to wait until next year.
“I think traditional trick-or-treating is thought to be high-risk, where you’ve got a lot of kids crowding around, going door-to-door, getting close to pick up the candy, things like that,” said Dr. Philip Huang, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services.
In September, Los Angeles County officials announced a trick-or-treat ban before promptly revising it, CNN reported, and other municipalities have considered doing the same.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released Halloween safety recommendations, which Huang said will be consistent with Dallas County’s upcoming guidance. Some low-risk activities include carving pumpkins, hosting a virtual costume party and hiding candy around the house.
One may think that trick-or-treating isn’t a big deal since it takes place outdoors and interactions with strangers are somewhat brief. Not so, according to the CDC, which lists it as a “higher risk” activity.
That’s because children go door-to-door in clumps, Huang said, and there isn’t much room for physical distancing on cramped porches. Plus, kids have to touch the doorbell, which could also lead to coronavirus transmission if one doesn’t wash their hands before eating candy.
In addition, kids and adults should remember that costume masks are not the same thing as cloth masks, Huang said. It’s important to wear proper masks, physical distance and sanitize one’s hands regularly throughout the night, he said.
Haunted houses should also be avoided, said Dr. Diana Cervantes, an infectious disease epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. Some of the larger ones tend to be busy, and fright-workers enjoy getting up close to scare attendees. When one screams, tiny virus-laden droplets easily spread, she said.
As a rule of thumb, Cervantes said that people need to remember the three "C"s of COVID-19.
“If you’re going to be in cramped spaces, in close continuous contact, and if you’re going to be in crowds, that’s how you get COVID-19,” she said.
It’s not just the coronavirus that we have to worry about, said Dr. Erin Carlson, an associate clinical professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at the University of Texas at Arlington. The standard flu will also be making the rounds, and it is possible to be sick with that and the coronavirus at the same time, she said.
Still, Carlson said those risks likely won’t deter people from reveling.
“I want to say Halloween is canceled this year, but it’s not realistic,” she said. “Kids have been through enough in 2020, and their parents have been through enough, let’s give them a night of fun and figure out how to make it safe.”
Although traditional trick-or-treating is frowned upon, Carlson said it is possible to turn it into a lower-risk experience. Instead of going from house to house, parents can host “table to table" trick-or-treating outdoors, where kids wait in a single-file line to receive candy.
Trunk-or-treating is possible too, she said. With cars parked at least 6 feet from one another, adults can remain near the hood of the vehicle while kids can pick out candy on their own.
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The biggest concern will be Halloween parties, she said, where adults tend to congregate in a confined space for prolonged periods of time. Even outdoors gatherings can be dangerous since big crowds and inebriation can lead attendees to speak louder and spew virus-laden droplets of saliva.
As such, public health experts are adamantly warning against attending large indoor get-togethers. Carlson said that alcohol and drugs are often offered at such events, which can further impair one’s judgment in terms of following COVID-19 guidelines.
“It might be wise to just give up the adult behaviors that often accompany Halloween, and just focus on a fun, safe event for kiddos this year,” she said.