How to do Halloween safely during COVID

To do Halloween safely during COVID might take a little outside-the-box thinking. But with these safety tips from UCHealth experts and a little creativity, COVID-19 doesn't have to ghost you favorite holiday.
Oct. 7, 2020
boy in a firefighter costume wearing a mask with his mother, also wearing a mask. Both demonstrating how to do halloween safely during COVID.
Traditional Halloween activities, such as door-to-door trick-or-treating, are high-risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. But there are other ways to celebrate Halloween during COVID, including scavenger hunts in your neighborhood while wearing masks, keeping hands clean and staying socially distant from others. Photo: Getty Images.

The candy. The costumes. The fun. It’s your child’s favorite time of year — and maybe even yours. This year, though, the coronavirus pandemic threatens to ghost the whole holiday. Or not.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released guidelines designed to keep people safe during the holiday and alternative Halloween activities to keep festivities fun.

We asked our experts at UCHealth to chime in on those recommendations and provide their safety advice for how to do Halloween safely during COVID.

How safe is it to go trick-or-treating this Halloween?

Traditional Halloween activities may be high-risk for spreading viruses, according to the CDC. These include everyone’s favorite – traditional trick-or-treating where children go door-to-door in their adorable outfits and receive treats.

Dr. Heather Isaacson, a pediatrician with UCHealth in Longmont, says the decision about whether to go trick-or-treating is ultimately, a personal decision. She believes that those who choose to celebrate in a traditional manner can do so safely by wearing masks, social distancing and taking other precautions.

Regarding masks, the CDC provides this guidance:

  • A costume mask is not a substitute for a protective cloth mask. A costume mask should not be used unless it is made of two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers the mouth and nose and doesn’t leave gaps around the face.
  • Do not wear a costume mask over a protective cloth mask because it may be dangerous if the costume mask makes it hard to breathe. Instead, consider using a Halloween-themed cloth protective mask.

“Decorate those masks and incorporate them into the costumes,” Isaacson said. “And hand sanitizer is necessary.”

Having children grab treats from bowls is not recommended this year, Isaacson said. Instead, offer individual goodie bags that can be handed out or placed on an outside table.

Also, close contact is considered “within 6 feet for more than 10-15 minutes,” so venture out with family members or small groups of people who you know have been practicing social distance. Ultimately, stay away from large crowds, Isaacson said.

For people living in areas where community spread of COVID creates more risks, traditional Halloween activities should be replaced by more creative ideas, she added.

“Think outside of the box with ideas like a reverse trick-or-treating, where kids stay home and dress up and neighbors do a parade and throw candy,” Isaacson said.

But remember, people who have COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 should not participate in Halloween activities. It is also flu season, so consider others’ health before putting yourself in close contact with others if you have any flu-like symptoms.

Child in paw patrol outfit gets a bag of candy from a hand out the door. UCHealth provides tips on how to do Halloween safely during covid.
If you plan to hand out candy this year, wash your hands often and wear a mask. Another way to do Halloween safely during COVID is to prepare individual goodie bags to hand out, remembering to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing the bags. Photo: Getty Images.

What safe alternatives are there to trick-or-treating and other traditional Halloween activities?

The CDC provides some fun ideas for alternative Halloween activities. Here are some low-risk ideas:

  • Carving or decorating pumpkins with members of your household and then displaying them.
  • Carving or decorating pumpkins outside, at a safe distance, with neighbors or friends.
  • Decorating your house, apartment or living space.
  • Doing a Halloween scavenger hunt where children are given lists of Halloween-themed things to look for while they walk outdoors from house to house admiring Halloween decorations at a distance.
  • Having a virtual Halloween costume contest.
  • Having a Halloween movie night with people you live with.
  • Having a scavenger hunt-style trick-or-treat search with your household members in or around your home rather than going house to house.

Moderate-risk Halloween activities:

  • Participating in one-way trick-or-treating where individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up for families to grab and go while continuing to social distance (such as at the end of a driveway or at the edge of a yard)
  • Having a small group, outdoor, open-air costume parade where people are distanced more than 6 feet apart.
  • Attending a costume party held outdoors where protective masks are used and people can remain more than 6 feet apart. Learn how not to be a “superspreader at events and gatherings.
  • Going to an open-air, one-way, walk-through haunted forest where appropriate mask use is enforced, and people can remain more than 6 feet apart.
    • If screaming will likely occur, greater distancing is advised. The greater the distance, the lower the risk of spreading a respiratory virus.
  • Visiting pumpkin patches or orchards where people use hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins or picking apples, wearing masks is encouraged or enforced, and people are able to maintain social distancing.
  • Having an outdoor Halloween movie night with local family friends with people spaced at least 6 feet apart.
    • If screaming will likely occur, greater distancing is advised. The greater the distance, the lower the risk of spreading a respiratory virus.
    • Lower your risk by following CDC’s recommendations on hosting gatherings or cook-outs.
      couple dressed in costume does halloween safely during covid by participating in an online party.
      Having a virtual Halloween party is one way to do Halloween safely during COVID. Photo: Getty Images.

What are some safety tips to remember when venturing out on Halloween?

COVID-19 is not the only risk on Halloween. Children are twice as likely to be hit and killed by a car on Halloween night than any other time, according to Safe Kids Worldwide.

UCHealth Community Health Educator Alison Weston advises parents to not only make sure their children are safe from COVID-19, but also from the other dangers that present themselves during Halloween activities.

“Staying visible is going to be super important this year as some drivers might not expect a lot of foot traffic due to COVID so the few kiddos who are out might not be as easily seen,” Weston said. “Trick-or-treaters who are outside need to stay extra vigilant and extra visible with flashlights, glow sticks and reflective items.”

She also advises that parents check their child’s mask before heading out to make sure they are able to see well. Also, avoid placing a costume mask over a cloth mask as it may be hard for a child to breathe.

Children under 12 should not venture out without adult supervision. And “older children should also stay vigilant by walking in groups, staying in well-lit areas and practicing safe walking habits,” she adds.

Should I be worried about the candy my kids get/eat?

“In the beginning of the pandemic, we were much more concerned about COVID living on surfaces than we are now,” said Isaacson. “Simple hand-washing should suffice, and if you are really concerned, then you can buy your own candy to give to your kids and trade it out after trick-or-treating or do a scavenger hunt at home for it.”

Encourage kids to wait to open their candy until they get home and can wash their hands. And while out, take time to regroup and use hand sanitizer.

What are ideas for safely giving out candy during Halloween?

Drop candy down a long slide from a window, or hang candy from a spider web placed outside.

If you give out candy, wear a mask and wash your hands often. You may also want to sanitize surfaces such as doorknobs and doorbells often.

Remember, if you are preparing individual goodie bags, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing the bags.

The traditional bowl of candy method is not recommended this year, Isaacson said.

What activities should I be avoiding this Halloween?

The CDC lists these activities as high-risk for spreading COVID-19:

  • Participating in traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go door to door.
  • Having trunk-or-treat where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots.
  • Attending crowded costume parties held indoors.
  • Going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming.
  • Going on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household.
  • Traveling to a rural fall festival that is not in your community if you live in an area with community spread of COVID-19.

How can families with higher-risk individuals take extra steps to protect themselves this Halloween?

“High-risk individuals should celebrate at home with their own families,” Isaacson said. “They can decorate like crazy and throw their own family party or celebrate with distant loved ones over Zoom.”

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.