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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

How to Safely Celebrate Halloween During the Pandemic

By Christina Johns, M.D.

This Halloween will be unique for kids and parents, with concerns about COVID-19 piled on top of the usual warnings about safety. And with Halloween falling on a Saturday this year, parents may feel under pressure to make this year a Halloween to remember.

But there are some simple things we can do to help kids have safe and COVID-free fun.

1. Keep up good COVID-19 habits. Continue to avoid large gatherings, keep a distance of six feet between yourself and others, wear medical masks or cloth face coverings, and often wash hands. Remember: a costume mask is not a substitute for a medical mask or cloth face covering. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that, to prevent breathing difficulties, we should not wear a costume mask over a cloth mask. Children younger than 2 should not wear a cloth mask.

2. Make costume parties virtual and take parades outdoors. Outdoor costume parades at which you can wear medical or cloth masks and practice six-feet social distancing protocols are perfectly safe. Take photos of kids in costumes and share the images with friends and family, or integrate photos into at-home crafts.

3. Be a socially distant trick-or-treater. Kids naturally cluster as they go door-to-door, and this poses the greatest potential exposure to COVID. So if you are trick-or-treating, strictly enforce social distancing, especially among kids who don’t normally spend time together. Of course, washing hands or using hand sanitizer before and after trick-or-treating is a must.

4. Hand out individually packed treats. If you offer treats to the goblins who appear at your door, don’t let them dig their hands into your candy bowl. That bowl is another potential contact point for COVID so keep little (and big) fingers out of it. Instead, pitch individual treats into trick-or-treaters bags, or line up individual, pre-packed treat bags on a table outside. Don't forget to wear your own cloth mask and perform regular hand hygiene yourself.

5. Wipe down candy. Even if your child collects treats from a few well-known neighbors who haven’t tested positive for COVID, you may still want to wipe down the candy or let it sit for a couple days before your child eats it. One parent I know is even replacing her kids’ candy with bags of candy she is buying herself.

Stay-at-Home Halloween Celebrations

1. Spooky movie night. Choose your favorite scary movie and use Zoom or FaceTime to create a watch party with family and friends.

2. Backyard candy scavenger hunt. Take a page from the Easter Bunny’s playbook: Hide treats around the yard and have your kids hunt them down. Giving your little ones flashlights and staging the hunt after dark will make it even spookier and more challenging.

3. Pumpkin decorating. This is one Halloween tradition that's as safe and fun as ever.

4. Halloween-themed meal. Take dinner to the next level by decorating a pizza with Halloween-shaped toppings, or making candy apples on a stick. You can also turn a tangerine into a “pumpkin” by peeling it and placing a thin slice of celery on top for a stem. If you have children younger than 3, make sure whatever treats you make and eat are not choking hazards.

What to Avoid

1. Don’t go to indoor events, like haunted houses. Anything indoors and involving groups of people may potentially expose your family to COVID-19, especially when those events involve  (even fun) shouting and screaming. An outdoor haunted forest and corn maze may be better options, as long as medical masks or cloth face coverings are used, and physical distancing and one-way walk-throughs are enforced.

2. Don’t share or trade candy. This kind of exchange only encourages transmission of germs. It’s especially smart to avoid this practice this year.

Halloween during the COVID-19 pandemic is a chance for you and your children to get creative, and maybe even invent some new traditions for your family. It's also a great opportunity to model flexibility and a positive spirit. If you're excited and make it fun, your kids will enjoy it, too.

Christina Johns, M.D., is the senior medical advisor for PM Pediatrics and a practicing pediatric urgent-care physician. Follow her at @drcjohns on Twitter.