Halloween is a big deal for Salwa Sulieman’s family. There are decorations and trick-or-treating, of course; homemade chocolate-covered Oreo mummies and graveyard brownies; and elaborate themed costumes for her, her wife and their 6- and 9-year-old boys: Toy Story 4, Star Wars and, this year, Disney villains.
But as a pediatric infectious disease expert and attending physician at Nemours duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, Sulieman also knows that for our world’s first-ever COVID-era Halloween — a holiday featuring hordes of kids going house to house — digging their hands into a communal candy bowl and shouting “Trick or Treat!” might not exactly fall under the rubric of social distancing.
For Gen Xers who grew up trick-or-treating in the ’80s, our parents’ biggest worries on Oct. 31 involved rainy weather or poison and staples in the Snickers. Things are far scarier now, thanks to an international pandemic. But — and it’s an important, exciting “but” — that doesn’t mean Halloween 2020 is canceled. “We talked to our kids and told them, ‘Halloween is going to look a little different this year,’ ” says Sulieman, a doctor of osteopathic medicine. “But there are ways to make it work.”
Kate Vergara, a Chicago- and New York City-based public health and infectious disease specialist and mom of two, has spent time helping Ebola survivors in Sierra Leone and fighting childhood polio in Ethiopia. She goes a step further, calling Halloween “the perfect holiday to still hold during the pandemic.”
It is also important to note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued health and safety guidance, saying that Halloween does need to be different this year. Among its recommendations are no door-to-door trick-or-treating, costume parties or haunted houses. It also has endorsed outdoor, one-way trick-or-treating. Be sure to check your local public health department’s guidelines as well.
Ready to get ghoulish … safely? Read on.
Put a new spin on trick or treat
Spook-tacular news for little goblins: Handing out candy can be safe! But “opening your door to multiple people less than 6 feet away is not the way to go,” Sulieman says, nor do you want throngs of unicorns and Harry Potters rifling through your candy bowl. Instead, try this new take on trick-or-treating, which she herself plans to implement while dressed as Maleficent: Set up a table at the base of your front steps or driveway. With clean hands, spread out individual candies, or go all-out and fill plastic cups with multiple pieces. Add a “Take one” sign and supervise from at least 6 feet away, directing kids to approach one by one. Stephen Ostroff, M.D., former deputy director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases at the CDC, has endorsed this idea. You also can keep a bottle of hand sanitizer on the table and encourage kids to take a squirt before leaving.
To further minimize risk, stash your kids’ booty for 48 to 72 hours before digging in — sufficient time for any potential COVID-19 virus that may have hitched a ride on their sweets to die. (Tide them over with your own family candy stash in the meantime.) That said, “the risk of contracting COVID from a piece of wrapped candy, or any type of contact transmission, is generally very low,” Sulieman says.
Liz Vergin, a mom of two from Grayslake, Illinois, says her neighborhood is hosting a Trunk or Treat, pulling cars to the ends of their driveways with decorated trunks open and filled with wrapped baggies of candy. (Vergin’s planning a Cruella theme with a trunk full of fake puppies.) Signage will spell out all rules, and hand sanitizer will be available. “Nobody has to approach a strange house, but can still enjoy our decor and a treat contact-free,” she says. “We’re coming together to help our little community have an awesome Halloween, no matter how scary the real world is!”
Stay home and go all-out with festivities beyond trick-or-treating
- Go nuts with the yard decorations. Think bales of hay! Frank N. Stein tombstone! Motion-activated zombie babies!
- Get crafty with your kids all month. Carve jack-o’-lanterns, roast pumpkin seeds, or buy a mini smartphone projector and screen scary (or not-so-scary) movies outside. (Find more creative ideas at the National Confectioners Association’s Halloween Central site at alwaysatreat.com.)
- When the big full-mooned night arrives, party at home with your favorite (Addams) family pod members. That’s what Linda Bobiles, a mom of four from Lincolnwood, Illinois, is doing: setting up a firepit, dipping apples and hiding candy all over the house and backyard before sending her kids out with flashlights to find it. “It’s all the joy of getting candy without leaving home,” she says. They’ll also invite some friends for drive-by or walk-by visits, with the Bobiles family tossing sweets as friends pass by.
- Work those costumes. Masks must cover the nose and mouth, and go underneath the chin. (That Scream hood with the giant breathing hole won’t work.) Fortunately, many clever masks appropriate for these times are available, just waiting to inspire your kiddo’s costume. Look for ones screen-printed with critter mouths, superhero symbols, Pokémon characters and the like, or pick a costume that organically involves a full-coverage mask (surgeon, ninja, mummy). Vergara endorses costumes with built-in social distancing such as an octopus with long arms sticking out; a Southern belle with an oversized hoopskirt; or a solar system with planets encircling your child, the sun.
- Boo your neighbors. This fun tradition involves anonymously leaving Halloween-themed treats on a neighbor’s doorstep, plus a “You’ve been boo’d!” note encouraging them to keep the chain going. Fill a decorative bag or bucket with stickers, glow necklaces, craft projects, window clings, candy and more (the dollar stores come in handy here); drop it off; ring the doorbell (use your knuckle!); and run away quickly. You can include a “We’ve been boo’d!” sign for recipients to hang on their door, signaling other boo participants to skip the house and surprise another neighbor instead.
Have a boo-tiful time, ghoul-friends!