How to safely celebrate Halloween during a pandemic

CDC Releases COVID-19 Guidelines for Halloween

Unique circumstances call for creative measures and precautions.

Every Halloween, Ben Ku and his partner, Heath Hall, decorate their house and yard with spooky decorations — cobwebs and ghosts, and this year, they made 100 black paper bats. They also prepare for hundreds of trick-or-treaters who traverse their Gwinnett County neighborhood.

And while door-to-door trick-or-treating has been discouraged this year during the pandemic, Ku also knows costumed children may still swarm the streets on Halloween, which falls on a Saturday this year. So, he developed a clever way to safely dole out candy: He built a candy chute out of PVC pipe and stretching 10 feet.

Heath Hall (left) and Ben Ku aren’t sure how many trick-or-treaters they will get this year at their Tucker home, so they built a chute to deliver candy while keeping socially distanced on Halloween. Ben Gray for the AJC
Heath Hall (left) and Ben Ku aren’t sure how many trick-or-treaters they will get this year at their Tucker home, so they built a chute to deliver candy while keeping socially distanced on Halloween. Ben Gray for the AJC

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

“If children don’t come this year, we are totally fine with that,” said Ku, who is a Gwinnett County commissioner. “But if they do, we wanted to have an option for them.”

He and his partner also plan to dress up for Halloween as Mario & Luigi from the iconic video game from Nintendo.

Every October, Halloween activities offer spooky fun — visiting corn mazes and pumpkin patches, donning fun costumes, and setting up colorful decorations — not to mention, what is for many considered the main event: trick-or-treating.

But this year, everyone is facing the same looming question: How can you safely celebrate the holiday during a pandemic?

Is trick-or-treating even an option, or should children skip the coveted tradition this year?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued guidelines on how to safely celebrate Halloween. Traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating activities, along with crowded indoor costume parties, are not recommended.

Even so, doctors and public health experts agree that, yes, families can still celebrate the holiday, gather with friends, and even go trick-or-treating, but they must take precautions and modify traditions.

“The pandemic has shown us we end up having to do things a little bit differently and creatively if we want to continue our activities like we have in the past,” said Dr. Colleen Kraft, an associate professor in the Department of Medicine Division of Infectious Diseases at Emory University’s medical school. “We need to be innovative.”

Across metro Atlanta, communities have been planning for more low-key celebrations — if they happen at all.

Here are key safety tips for enjoying the Halloween from the CDC along with Kraft, Dr. Danny Branstetter, medical director of Infection Prevention at Wellstar Health System, and Dr. Avril Beckford, chief pediatric officer at Wellstar.

The basics. Regardless of your activity, stick with basic safety principles: Wear masks, practice social distancing of at least 6 feet, and make sure your hands — and your children’s hands — are clean.

Keep it outdoors. Being outside promotes better airflow and helps minimize close contact with others.

The CDC encourages people to follow guidelines for a safe Halloween. Contributed.
The CDC encourages people to follow guidelines for a safe Halloween. Contributed.

Modify trick-or-treating. For those trick-or-treating, avoid going in a large cluster, and opt for visiting a small number of homes, perhaps only those in your coronavirus bubble or quaranteam. (A quaranteam is a tight-knit social circle that doesn’t interact with other people outside their group.) For those handing out the candy, putting out a bowl for all the neighbors' kids to dig their hands in is not advised, and you’ll want to maintain a safe distance from the trick-or-treaters. Get creative by using a candy chute or a marker, like pool noodles, so children have visual cues for 6 feet of distance. Another idea is to line up candy along with the driveway or along a fence to create a “Grab-n-Go” style option so kids can pick up a treat while social distancing.

ExploreSome combat pandemic’s isolation by forming ‘quaranteams’ with friends

Another, safe alternative to trick or treating: Have a scavenger hunt-style trick-or-treat search with your household members in or around your home rather than going house to house.

Spread out the season. Instead of squeezing all of the fun into one night, stretch it out for several days or weeks. Decorate your house and yard, watch Halloween movies, or carve pumpkins.

Avoid high-risk activities. The CDC said going to an indoor haunted house, where people may be crowded together and screaming, is on the higher-risk end. Going on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household are also “higher risk.”

But get-togethers and frightful delights don’t have to be completely off-limits. And as an alternative to a haunted house, consider 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. An outdoor costume party would also be considered moderate risk, if people wear masks and stay 6 feet away from each other. Remember, a costume mask is not a substitute for a cloth mask. Even more, a costume mask over a protective cloth mask can be dangerous if the costume mask makes it hard to breathe. Instead, consider using a Halloween-themed cloth mask.

Also, watch how much alcohol you consume, which can cloud judgment and increase risky behaviors, the CDC warns, but this is true any time. And If you may have COVID-19 or you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should not participate in in-person Halloween festivities and should not give out candy to trick-or-treaters.

Julie Bowen and Adam Sandler star in the new "Hubie Halloween" on Netflix. Contributed.
Julie Bowen and Adam Sandler star in the new "Hubie Halloween" on Netflix. Contributed.

Credit: Netfilx

Credit: Netfilx

Want more guidance and help?

The Halloween & Costume Association and Harvard Global Health Institute released a color-coded map that shows coronavirus risk levels by county to help guide families on how to safely celebrate Halloween. Once parents find the color connected to their county, they can scroll down from the map to find suggestions for activities based on risk level, which ranges from green to yellow to orange to red. Metro Atlanta falls in yellow and orange categories, which calls for modified trick-or-treating and scavenger hunts and surprise candy drop-offs among other activities.

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