Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines advising against traditional trick-or-treating “where treats are handed to children who go door to door” but offered ideas for less risky ways to engage in the tradition, like “scavenger hunt-style” trick-or-treat searches or socially distanced goodie bag offerings. While some officials are canceling or strongly discouraging trick-or-treating in their communities this year, others are still allowing it to go forward.
Children have already dealt with so much disruption and disappointment in 2020, it’s only natural families would want to provide some semblance of normalcy with Halloween fun. But there are obviously big concerns.
Nearly 60% of 600 families surveyed by the education company Outschool said they do not feel safe trick-or-treating this year, while the National Retail Federation’s 2020 Halloween survey found 23% of respondents plan on participating.
The situation is complicated, and child health experts understand the struggle. With October 31 mere weeks away, we asked pediatricians across the country to share their thoughts on trick-or-treating ― if they think it’s safe, if their families will be participating, and what precautions or alternatives they’d advise.
“To be safe and prevent the spread of coronavirus, families shouldn’t trick-or-treat as usual this year.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of our lives, including how we will celebrate holidays such as Halloween 2020. To be safe and prevent the spread of coronavirus, families shouldn’t trick-or-treat as usual this year. My family plans to have a sense of Halloween normalcy by decorating, wearing costumes, making treats and watching a kid-friendly scary movie at home. The grand finale will be a trick-or-treat scavenger hunt around the house. So my kids are actually excited about our new Halloween. My message to everyone is to have fun, get creative and be safe.” ― Dr. Candice W. Jones, an Orlando pediatrician in practice for 14 years
“I would consider other ideas like having one or two friends over for an outdoor get-together, an outside socially distanced ‘parade’ or a virtual Halloween costume contest.”
“Halloween is a fun holiday and should be celebrated, but this year, it needs to be modified so we can ensure that kids and families are safe. This means being more creative. I don’t think that kids should trick-or-treat in the traditional way this year, as it can be risky. But, we can still decorate, carve pumpkins, and make costumes. Parents need to remind their children and make sure that they as well are practicing social distancing and wearing masks when we are around people outside of our household. It’s important to remember that a Halloween costume mask is not sufficient to protect against COVID-19. Cloth masks need to be worn, so think about getting creative with other parts of the costume.
“I would not take my child for traditional trick-or-treating this year. However, I would consider other ideas like having one or two friends over for an outdoor get-together, an outside socially distanced ‘parade’ or a virtual Halloween costume contest. I also liked an idea of doing a scavenger hunt amongst neighbors, with families being socially distanced in their costumes.
“It’s really important to improvise and be creative, while wearing cloth masks and keeping distanced. Trick-or-treating often results in many kids clustering and talking, which are very risky activities. I think we can enjoy Halloween with other types of fun, as mentioned above, safely. Also remember to do the usual safe things of washing hands before eating, and not overeating on sugary candies too!” ― Dr. Hansa Bhargava, a pediatrician and senior medical director of WebMD
“[S]et up a socially distanced one-way trick-or-treating in which kids pick up individually wrapped treats from participating homes.”
“Halloween and trick-or-treating are a highlight of childhood. Unfortunately, trick-or-treating may not be the safest way to celebrate this year. The CDC classifies traditional trick-or-treating as high risk during the pandemic. That’s because kids, and parents, cluster at doorways, expose their neighbors and put their hands in treat bowls potentially spreading germs on the surface of treat wrappers. In San Diego County, the health department does not recommend it either. If my teenage kids want to go trick-or-treating I wouldn’t allow it, but I would offer to have a fun night at home with treats and Halloween-themed movies. For parents who really want to continue the tradition, I recommend talking to your friends and neighbors to set up socially distanced one-way trick-or-treating in which kids pick up individually wrapped treats from participating homes. Everyone should still wear a face covering and maintain their distance. Don’t forget to have everyone wash their hands when they get home, before enjoying their goodies. Overall, while this Halloween will be very different, with some creativity and positivity, parents can still make it fun.” ― Dr. Jaime Friedman, a pediatrician with a practice in San Diego and director of marketing at Children’s Primary Care Medical Group
“I’ll be skipping the houses who are not providing easy accessible treats from their driveways or patios, and will avoid getting close to other family groups.”
“Trick-or-treating can happen this year, but not the 2019 version. As we begin the holiday season, we have to be willing to modify our traditions and change our expectations of gatherings and celebrations. This does not mean that you shouldn’t participate in holiday events. It means parents need to provide safe boundaries and acceptable ways that events can continue.
“Especially for Halloween, it is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect children to modify their behavior on their own. Kids get excited and have high expectations based on what they know from the past. It’s up to parents to navigate their local community infection rates and personal risk factors to allow safe and fun participation for 2020.
“Our community rates are currently stable, so I would take my kids around our neighborhood and allow them to accept treats from neighbors who have accommodated for social distancing and are wearing masks. I’ll be skipping the houses who are not providing easy accessible treats from their driveways or patios, and will avoid getting close to other family groups.
“In addition to routine costume and safety tips, I would also be sure that my kids don’t eat any treats on the route. Waiting to wash hands before digging in is important. My kids will be wearing facial coverings while outside. We will be traveling as a family unit and waving to friends that we may pass. Most importantly, if my kids are unable to follow distancing or things are feeling uncomfortable, I’ll be heading home early to some hot cocoa and a family-friendly Halloween movie. Having a fun ‘Plan B’ is a must, just in case you need to change course at the last minute.” ― Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician in practice in Overland Park, Kansas
“I’d imagine how to incorporate a functional cloth or surgical mask into the costume. Mummy, anyone? Ninja? Surgeon?”
“Much of the way we have traditionally celebrated Halloween might accommodate reasonable COVID-19 precautions. For example, kids and families usually trick-or-treat outside. Mask-wearing obviously is part of the tradition, although I’d imagine how to incorporate a functional cloth or surgical mask into the costume (Mummy, anyone? Ninja? Surgeon?) and keep the eyes clear for safety. Doorbells and candy that others may have handled pose some obvious risks, but a healthy squirt of isopropyl hand sanitizer between houses should take care of that. Giving out candy doesn’t require less than six feet of distance if you leave a container on the porch or have a good throwing arm. The biggest precaution would be to avoid gathering in large groups and instead hang together as a family or, if you already have a pod, the pod (‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers,’ anyone?).” ― Dr. David L. Hill, a pediatrician in practice in Wayne County, North Carolina
“Don’t open candy while trick or treating. Wait until you get home to wash hands first.”
“As a behavioral pediatrician and mom of two kids, I have been getting asked about Halloween in general and whether my kids would be allowed to go. I think it is important for kids to have fun ways to celebrate this holiday but still stay safe. My kids are now back to school, my daughter attending in person five days a week and my middle school-age son is on a hybrid schedule, attending in person on alternating days. Now that we are in a ‘new normal,’ my kids are hoping to participate in Halloween! So yes, I am allowing it but with safety precautions in place, given we are still in the COVID pandemic.
“Here are my pointers for my own kids and what I would recommend: If families decide to allow their kids to go trick-or-treating, accompany them. This way you can ensure they are following your rules and staying safe. Everyone should still wear face coverings/masks and adhere to the six feet or more of social distancing. What this means is to wait at the sidewalk if there is someone else in front of you already at the door. Don’t allow children to touch every piece of candy. Get one piece and move on. Or parents can be the one to get it. Don’t open candy while trick-or-treating. Wait until you get home to wash hands first.
“If you are giving out candy, consider putting out a bowl with candy, put your mask on and allow each child/adult to get one to two pieces ― or hand out to individual trick-or-treaters. If you do not want to participate, don’t turn on your porch light. Other fun things families can do to celebrate Halloween: Prepare popcorn, candy apples or other sweets for a family movie or game night. Dress up and have a virtual Boo party with friends and family. Do a fun indoor Halloween scavenger hunt and hide treats for your own kids to find while in costume. Carve pumpkins as a family or visit a pumpkin patch.” ― Dr. Nerissa Bauer, a behavioral pediatrician in Indianapolis, Indiana
“[T]ake precautions by following the 3 Ws — wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance.”
“Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta agrees with CDC guidelines, which strongly recommend avoiding high-risk activities like trick-or-treating this Halloween. There are many fun and family-friendly alternatives like decorating pumpkins with members of your household, holding a virtual costume contest or planning a themed scavenger hunt around your home that we recommend instead. If families are planning on celebrating with in-person festivities, they should take precautions by following the 3 Ws ― wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance. It’s important to remember that COVID-19 is not the only virus circulating this fall. Following the 3 Ws and getting vaccinated for the flu before Halloween will be key in preventing a ‘twindemic’ this cold and flu season.” ― Dr. James D. Fortenberry, chief medical officer and pediatrician-in-chief at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
“We should all be asking ourselves: What is the COVID-19 situation in my community? Are cases under control or are they on the rise?”
“This has been a tough year for us all, and kids have suffered just as much as adults. We have seen anxiety and depression in children and adolescents at an all-time high during these past months. Keeping a sense of normalcy around holidays will bring a level of joy and excitement that kids haven’t had in a long time and need now more than ever.
“With that in mind, Halloween will not look the same this year. There are important things we must consider before deciding whether our children should go out for traditional trick-or-treating or other Halloween gatherings this year. We should all be asking ourselves: What is the COVID-19 situation in my community? Are cases under control or are they on the rise? If attending a gathering, what is the location? Outdoor gatherings are preferable. What is the duration? Shorter duration is better. How many people will be attending? A small gathering with people you know is best. Is this activity lower risk or higher risk for my child or for members or our family? Do we have high-risk family members?
“The decision on whether to allow children to trick-or-treat or participate in other Halloween events will need to be one that each family makes for themselves. However, we should take the following into consideration: Who should NOT be out trick-or-treating? According to the CDC, kids who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 that have not met criteria that makes them safe to be around others, kids who have symptoms of COVID-19, kids who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days, and kids who are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
“Precautions to take while trick-or-treating: have your child wear a cloth mask, gloves, have easy access to hand sanitizer, and minimize the number of houses visited, especially outside your neighborhood.
“Some alternatives to traditional trick-or-treating might include an outdoor movie night with a small group of friends, with social distancing and masks; neighborhood outdoor pumpkin-decorating contest; neighborhood outdoor Halloween-themed scavenger hunts; and small, neighborhood, outdoor Halloween costume parades.
If your neighborhood is hosting traditional trick-or-treating, plan on having individually wrapped bags for kids to grab out of your porch or front door to minimize multiple hands in a candy bowl. My kids are older, but my 14-year-old is looking forward to a small outdoor gathering or movie night with friends.” ― Dr. Jacqueline Winkelmann, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Orange County
“I’ve heard of people creating ‘candy chutes’ where they slide treats to trick-or-treaters in a contactless but fun way.”
“Even though it is Halloween, the nature of COVID-19 has not changed. The best way to reduce you and your family’s risk of exposure is still to physically distance, practice good hand hygiene, and to wear a mask (for kids 2 years or older). If your family is still planning to engage in trick-or-treating, your group should be limited to members of your own household instead of multiple families together. I would advise that children wear a regular mask that can be themed to match their costume, and do not wear a costume mask over a regular mask.
“My recommendation is to skip large parties and gatherings this year and to instead create new family Halloween traditions. Kids can still dress up in costumes at home, they can watch family Halloween movies together, they can create Halloween-themed treats or arts and crafts. Parents or caregivers may go ahead and purchase their kids’ favorite Halloween candy, and perhaps create a scavenger hunt or an ‘Easter egg hunt’ in the house for their kids to enjoy.
“If families want to eliminate the risk of exposure to COVID-19, then they may not participate in Halloween in the traditional sense. They may keep their outside lights off and not open the door to greet trick-or-treaters. However, if homeowners do plan to participate in handing out candy, they have a unique opportunity to get creative with how to do so safely and keeping physical distance. I’ve heard of people creating ‘candy chutes’ where they slide treats to trick-or-treaters in a contactless but fun way. It’s very important that if you’re going to pass out candy, that it is individually wrapped.” ― Jean Moorjani, a pediatrician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children