Halloween’s one of the most fun holidays. When else do you get free permission to dress up as whoever or whatever you want and gorge yourself on candy? And that’s not to mention all the fall festivities that lead up to the big day — like pumpkin picking, hayrides, haunted houses, and even spooky travel destinations.
But if you’re unprepared for certain safety pitfalls, the fun can quickly turn into a nightmare. For example, according to the Mayo Clinic’s Halloween safety guidelines, kids are twice as likely to be hit by a car on Halloween as they are on any other night of the year. And burns and cuts are also common.
You already spent a load of money on Halloween costumes, Halloween decorations, and trick-or-treat candy. Few of us add “medical expenses” to our Halloween budget, but that’s precisely what can happen without the proper safety precautions. And even more important than your wallet is the risk to your family’s personal health and safety.
Halloween 2020 brings unique challenges due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many common Halloween activities — like traditional trick-or-treating, Halloween parties, and indoor haunted houses — have been deemed high-risk for the spreading or contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
That doesn’t mean Halloween is canceled. There are plenty of ways to safely celebrate the holiday, including participating in safe trick-or-treating, outdoor Halloween parties, and outdoor haunted attractions. But it’s vital you follow safety precautions to keep the fun in the holiday — and that means following both CDC guidelines for coronavirus safety and the standard precautions you should follow every year, pandemic or not.
So if making the most of Halloween is a top priority this year, keep it from becoming a real-life horror film by following health and safety guidelines for decorating, costumes, trick-or-treating, and holiday activities.
Tips for a Safe Halloween
This Halloween, the pandemic adds to our usual lists of things to worry about. And while the safest option is to stay home, there are ways to safely celebrate while mitigating your risk. In addition to safe at-home alternatives for celebrating, many Halloween traditions are still on the OK list. It just requires following a few additional safety guidelines.
Halloween Safety Tips During COVID-19
When it comes to any Halloween activity that involves leaving your home and interacting with people outside your immediate household or pandemic bubble — a group of people that agrees to socially isolate from everyone but each other — all the general guidelines apply: Maintain a safe social distance (defined by the CDC as at least 6 feet), wash or sanitize your hands frequently, and wear a cloth face mask — even if you’re outside. Additionally, there are a few other tips specific to Halloween.
1. Check the Level of Risk in Your Area
When it comes to deciding what safety precautions you need to take to prevent yourself or your family from contracting the coronavirus — including skipping out entirely on trick-or-treating — start by checking the risk level in your area. To help with that, the Halloween & Costume Association (HCA) put together a Halloween 2020 website that includes an interactive map developed by the Harvard Global Health Institute showing the number of confirmed cases in your area.
As Michelle Barron, a medical director for infection and prevention control at the University of Colorado’s UCHealth, tells Real Simple, just as you’d check the weather to see if you need to grab an umbrella, knowing the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in your area can help you gauge which precautions to take.
The Halloween 2020 map, which the HCA updates regularly, shows the level of risk in one of four colors: green (a low number of confirmed cases), yellow, orange, and red (a high number of confirmed cases). The website also suggests appropriate activities based on the level of risk in your area. For example, those in green areas can pretty much celebrate Halloween as usual, complete with trick-or-treating, so long as they follow the typical CDC guidelines on being in public spaces (such as mask-wearing and social distancing). On the other hand, those in red areas should avoid activities that involve interacting with people outside their immediate household or pandemic bubble, including trick-or-treating.
But be prepared to be flexible, as the level of risk in your area could change as the holiday gets closer.
2. Check Local Regulations
Although the Halloween 2020 website suggests safe activities for celebrating the holiday in line with what the CDC has published, it’s not a substitute for public health recommendations or mandates. According to The Hill, in August, a bipartisan congressional group asked the CDC to issue updated guidance for preventing the spread of COVID-19 during Halloween. On Sept. 21, 2020, the CDC complied. But in the interim, local municipalities created policies of their own.
For example, the public health department in Los Angeles County has banned Halloween parties and indoor haunted houses and does not recommend door-to-door trick-or-treating. And it’s not the only county, city, or business to do so. USA Today reports that 37 states are home to canceled events.
So, before making plans, be sure to check with your city or county for any recently published local ordinances.
3. Gauge Your Personal Risk
You should also consider the level of risk for Halloween activities on a personal level. If you or any of your immediate household members are at high risk for developing complications from COVID-19, take extra precautions to avoid any potential exposure. These include older adults and those with medical complications like Type 2 diabetes, serious heart conditions, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and obesity. See the CDC for a complete list.
4. Wear a Face Mask
Whatever activity you decide to participate in this Halloween, wear a face mask to protect yourself and others. According to the CDC, scientists believe the primary way the virus spreads is through respiratory droplets expelled when someone talks, coughs, or sneezes.
Both cloth face masks and paper surgical masks keep those who may have the coronavirus from expelling respiratory droplets into the air. That’s crucial because 40% of those who have the coronavirus never show symptoms, according to a June 2020 Italian study published by the Imperial College of London. That means you could spread the virus without knowing it if you’re not wearing a mask.
Additionally, while they aren’t as protective for the wearer as medical-grade respirators like N95 masks, July 2020 research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that cloth face masks also provide some protection against inhaling coronavirus particles expelled by others. And while cloth masks don’t provide 100% protection, the risk of getting sick is a matter of dosage. Simply put, you may not get sick from inhaling only a few particles. And even if you do get sick, you’ll get less sick than if you’d inhaled more particles. So the more particles you can block, the better, Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and an expert in infectious diseases, told The Conversation.
To be effective, though, masks need to fit well. Amyna Husain, a pediatric emergency medicine physician who specializes in disaster preparedness for pediatrics at Johns Hopkins, tells the Daily Meal that masks need to cover the nose and mouth, and fit snugly without any gaps.
5. Stay Outside
Whether you’ll be trick-or-treating, passing out candy, or attending a Halloween party, it’s crucial — no matter the risk level of your area — to keep it outside. For example:
- Don’t trick-or-treat or pass out candy in an enclosed apartment complex.
- Avoid opening and reopening your door if you’re passing out candy.
- Don’t visit an indoor haunted house.
- Don’t attend an indoor party with people outside your pandemic bubble, especially large gatherings, defined by the CDC as more than 10 people.
In an interview with Elemental, Donald Milton, an environmental health professor at the University of Maryland and an expert on airborne infections, warns that normal precautions aren’t effective enough to stop coronavirus transmission in poorly ventilated indoor environments.
However, the Mayo Clinic notes the risk of spreading or contracting the virus is lower outdoors. That’s because the virus particles are more dispersed outdoors. Kimberly Prather, an atmospheric chemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, tells Elemental that’s because of the large volume of fresh air outdoors (as opposed to recirculated indoor air). It’s the difference between a tablespoon of salt water dispersing in a bucket of fresh water versus in a small glass, she explains.
While that doesn’t mean outdoor air is completely safe, it’s definitely safer than being indoors. But even if you’re outside, you must take all the usual precautions: Maintain a safe distance, wash your hands frequently, and wear a mask.
6. Wash Your Hands Frequently or Use Hand Sanitizer
Washing your hands with soap and water or using a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol is another way to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. According to the CDC, germs can spread when you touch other people or surfaces and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. They also spread when you blow your nose, cough, or sneeze into your hands and then touch other people or shared objects.
To ensure that doesn’t happen, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and water. Note that it doesn’t have to be antibacterial soap — any kind will do. Palli Thordarson, a chemistry professor at the University of New South Wales, explains in an interview with Vox that soap is like a demolition crew — it breaks down a building and takes all the bricks away. But it takes some time for the process to happen, which is why the guidelines advise washing for at least 20 seconds. Soap is effective at killing coronavirus germs because the virus particles have a fatty outer layer. And while oil (fat) and water don’t mix, soap contains dual-sided particles — one side’s attracted to fat and the other’s attracted to water. So the part of each soap molecule that’s attracted to fat buries into the virus’s outer layer (membrane). The membrane then falls apart, and the rest of the molecule dissolves and washes away in the water.
Soap is prioritized by the CDC because it’s more effective at killing coronavirus germs. However, hand sanitizer can also be effective as long as it’s the right strength and properly applied. According to Thordarson, the alcohol molecules in hand sanitizer work similarly to soap. But they have to be of a high concentration to work — at least 60%. That echoes the CDC guidelines, which also advise a minimum concentration of at least 60%. So skip any sanitizers that don’t contain at least this amount.
Steer clear of potential counterfeit sanitizers that contain methanol alcohol, which is highly toxic. The alcohol in hand sanitizers should be isopropyl or ethanol. If you’re concerned your sanitizer could be counterfeit, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) hand sanitizer information page, which details what to look for.
Additionally, the FDA warns consumers to keep hand sanitizers out of the reach of children, as ingesting even a small amount can be toxic to kids. Parents should always carry and apply the sanitizer. In the case of accidental ingestion, contact a poison control center immediately.
To use hand sanitizer, the CDC advises applying enough to cover the entire surface of your hands. Rub your hands together until the sanitizer is completely dry, which should take about 20 seconds.
As long as you follow these guidelines, hand sanitizer is convenient to carry with you to any Halloween event where soap isn’t readily available, such as trick-or-treating or to a party.
7. Maintain a Safe Distance
Even if you mask up and stay outside, social distancing still matters. Since none of these measures is 100% protective on its own, doing them all together matters. For example, a June 2020 study published in Nature found that emergency measures taken in several countries, including the U.S., may have prevented almost 500 million infections. And stateside, ABC News notes that researchers at Columbia University concluded in May 2020 that if preventative measures including mask-wearing and social distancing had been put into place just one week earlier, 36,000 U.S. lives could have been saved.
But while mask-wearing may be second nature to most of us at this point in 2020, in the excitement of Halloween, it’s easier to forget to keep our distance, especially if we’re longing to get together with friends and family for events like parties.
Yet social distancing saves lives. A study published in May 2020 by the Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC) used a model from The New York Times to estimate how many lives stay-at-home orders may have saved and how many cases of transmission they may have prevented in BCHC-member cities. And the model predicted they might have saved 200,000 lives and 2.1 million hospitalizations. While these are merely estimates, as COVID-19 is not well enough understood to make an exact model, the study does indicate how urgent social distancing is.
So no matter how you plan to celebrate Halloween this year, remember to wear a mask, wash your hands, keep it outside, and maintain social distance.
8. Consider Skipping It This Year
You’re not a Halloween Grinch if you decide to pass on your usual Halloween traditions. The best thing you can do to reduce your risk of contracting the coronavirus is to limit your interactions with others as much as possible. So while it’s fun to participate in the holidays, this year, it might be better to stay home and watch a Halloween movie instead — especially if you or someone in your household is a high-risk individual.
9. Monitor Your Symptoms
If you develop any symptoms associated with COVID-19, such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath, contact your primary care physician about whether you should get tested. If you test positive, immediately contact anyone who attended the event and alert them to their possible exposure to the virus. Additionally, follow the CDC-recommended steps for what to do if you become sick and the public health recommendations for community-related exposure.
Halloween Safety Tips for Decorating
Decorating for Halloween — whether indoors or outdoors — is one of the holiday’s top activities, as discovered by the National Retail Federation’s 2020 annual Halloween survey of shoppers. And it’s no wonder, as creating a spooky home or yard is one of the most fun ways to celebrate. But it’s not without its dangers.
10. Consider No-Carve Pumpkin Alternatives
As noted in the Mayo Clinic’s Halloween safety guidelines, cuts are a common Halloween injury, and most of those come from pumpkin carving. To avoid injury, consider no-carve options:
- Decorate pumpkins with paint.
- Draw designs on pumpkins with school glue, and sprinkle on the glitter.
- Let children draw faces on pumpkins using markers.
- Decorate pumpkins with stickers, including self-adhesive rhinestones and gems, self-adhesive googly eyes, or self-adhesive craft foam kits designed for pumpkins.
Even if you decide you’d rather carve, never allow small children to use sharp pumpkin-carving knives and tools. If young children want to help, they can draw a face on the pumpkin with markers, and parents can do the cutting. Kids can also help by scooping out the pumpkin’s insides, or you can sacrifice a cheap emery board (nail file) and let them “help” by “sanding” the holes.
11. Carve Safely
To reduce the risk of injury, the American Society for Surgery of the Hand’s Handcare blog recommends ensuring your workspace is well lit and dry. Moisture on any of the surfaces can increase the risk of your hand slipping on a sharp knife. Additionally, it recommends using a pumpkin saw, which is specifically designed for safely carving pumpkins. It also advises against using large knives, which can become stuck in the pumpkin and cause injury when tugged out. While sawing, use small strokes and direct the blade away from yourself and others.
If you injure yourself while carving, a minor cut should stop bleeding on its own, especially after applying pressure for up to 15 minutes with a clean, dry cloth. If the cut is deep or the bleeding doesn’t stop, visit an emergency room (you may need stitches).
12. Use Candles With Caution
Burns are another common injury during Halloween. Always be careful around flames. Additionally, be extra careful if you’re lighting a candle after using hand sanitizer. The alcohol in the sanitizer is highly flammable. So wait until it’s completely dry (and maybe a few minutes after to ensure it’s all evaporated) before lighting candles or any other type of fire, such as in your fire pit or fireplace. Similarly, be wary around fire if you use hair products containing alcohol, like hairspray and hair gel.
And there’s always the risk of damage to your home whenever fire is involved. So taking the proper precautions with candles is crucial for fire safety.
Candles can be safe if you use them with care. That means placing candles and candlelit pumpkins on a sturdy surface well away from anything flammable. If you place a candlelit pumpkin on your front porch, keep it far enough away from your walkway to avoid the chance a trick-or-treater’s costume could brush against it. And never leave candles unattended.
To avoid any potential risk of fire or burns, opt for battery-operated flameless candles, holiday string lights, glow sticks, LED pumpkin lights, or flashlights to light your pumpkins and other Halloween decorations.
Tips for Safe Halloween Costumes
Although parents often worry their kids’ candy could be tampered with, Joel Best, the nation’s top researcher on Halloween candy contamination, tells Vox there are no actual cases of children being seriously harmed by candy they received trick-or-treating. Rather, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes the most significant risks for kids on Halloween are drivers and kids costumes, which can obscure vision, cause trips and falls, or catch fire.
13. Keep Costumes Simple
Bigger is not always better. While it’s tempting to put together the most incredible costume ever, especially if you’re looking to show off your skills with a DIY Halloween costume, complex costumes can be a burden to wear. Heavy pieces are exhausting to keep on for long periods. Complex masks can obscure vision. And anything that trails on the ground is a tripping hazard. So before you head out for the night, make sure everyone can easily see, walk, and carry their costumes so you can enjoy the long night ahead to the fullest.
14. Wear the Right Size
Costumes need to fit properly to be safe. They should give the wearer full range of motion, and hems should be well above the ground to avoid tripping. If you aren’t an expert with a needle and thread, there’s no need to pay a tailor to hem a costume you plan to wear once. Instead, use staples, safety pins, or hem tape to hack a hem. (Note that hem tape is permanent.) And to reduce the risk of a costume coming into contact with flames, do the same with any loose ends and baggy sleeves.
Further, spending the night walking or dancing in ill-fitting shoes is uncomfortable at best and injurious at worst. Too-big shoes are a tripping hazard, and too-small shoes risk rubbing blisters or pinching toes. Even if a shoe fits well, breaking in a new pair on Halloween night isn’t the best idea, as you’re still prone to rubbing blisters. And if you plan to be anywhere with potentially slippery floors, like an adult party where drinks often get sloshed or spilled, purchase some grip stickers to give the bottoms of smooth-soled shoes some tread.
15. Choose Nonflammable Fabrics & Materials
Jack-o’-lanterns often have real candles inside, and it’s not unusual to light up the firepit or line walkways with luminaries on Halloween. To avoid the risk of severe injury, look for the words “flame resistant” on purchased costumes, wigs, and accessories. And avoid loose capes or flowy skirts.
If you’re going with a homemade Halloween costume, opt for less flammable materials, such as nylon, acrylic, and polyester. Also, avoid glittery fabric, which tends to be more flammable.
16. Keep Costumes Bright
As noted by the Mayo Clinic, being hit by a car is the No. 1 risk to kids on Halloween. To cut down on that risk, choose bright fabrics. And if you’ll be out after dark, attach reflective tape to costumes and trick-or-treat bags to ensure drivers can easily see you and your kids. Alternatively, go with reflective arm and leg bands or LED safety lights, which you can clip onto a costume.
17. Limit Accessories
Pointed props like swords, knives, wands, or canes pose a safety hazard if the bearer stumbles or trips. And someone can get accidentally stabbed in the eye if costume wearers and passersby aren’t careful. If you use any of these accessories, ensure they’re made of flexible materials — they should bend when pushed. And they shouldn’t have any sharp edges.
18. Plan for the Weather
Check the weather before heading out for trick-or-treating or another event. If the temperature will be cold, make sure your costumes will be warm enough. And don’t forget to plan for rain. Cold and rain together are a recipe for coughs, sore throats, and runny noses. And not even candy can cure a cold.
19. Skip Plastic & Rubber Costume Masks, Neck Gaiters, & Bandanas
At this point in 2020, we’re all used to wearing face masks. However, Halloween brings the temptation to swap the coronavirus face mask for a plastic or rubber costume mask. But costume masks are problematic on several levels.
First, even if we weren’t amid a global pandemic, costume masks can obstruct vision. Instead, it’s generally a safer practice to use face paint to create the character look you’re going for.
Additionally, they aren’t designed to block coronavirus particles. Thus, in its Halloween guidelines, the CDC warns against wearing a costume mask as a substitute for a cloth face mask unless it’s made of two or more layers of breathable fabric, covers your nose and mouth, and doesn’t leave gaps around your face.
So instead of a costume mask, opt for a Halloween-themed cloth face mask. Fortunately, retailers are busy creating various fun, spooky, and even downright scary Halloween cloth face masks. Check out retailers like Etsy or Amazon to buy a face mask. Or you can make your own face mask to ensure it perfectly complements your costume.
Just be sure to skip the bandanas and neck gaiters, even though you’ll find plenty of them made for Halloween. September 2020 Duke University research published in Science Advances found that some neck gaiters could be worse than wearing nothing when it comes to protecting you from the coronavirus. They fit too loosely and are too breathable to be protective, but they nevertheless lull wearers into a false sense of security. So it’s crucial to avoid wearing any kind of loose-fitting mask — bandanas, scarves, or neck gaiters — as a substitute for a tight-fitting cloth face mask with tightly woven fabric, such as cotton.
But a mask must still be comfortable enough that you won’t want to take it off. Many Halloween events can last for hours, so you need to make sure you can comfortably wear the mask that long.
In addition to not pulling too much on your ears, a face mask shouldn’t overly obscure breathing. For this reason, the CDC cautions against layering a costume mask over a cloth face mask, as that can make it difficult to breathe. If you have difficulty breathing in your face mask, a mask bracket can make breathing easier. You wear it under your mask to lift the mask away from your face, thereby creating more space for airflow.
However, note that Prevention reports some health experts have concerns a mask bracket could make your cloth mask less effective if you aren’t careful. A good seal around your nose and mouth is essential, and a bracket can potentially compromise that. So make sure your mask fits securely around your nose, chin, and face with the mask bracket inserted. You may need to size up your typical mask to accommodate the bracket and maintain a proper seal.
20. Choose Nontoxic, Hypoallergenic Makeup
Avoid cheap makeup, which can cause allergic reactions, Myron Zitt, a New York-based allergy and asthma specialist of the Allergy & Asthma Network, tells Cosmopolitan. While it can be tempting to save a few bucks on something you only plan to use once, it’s not worth the potential skin irritation or rash that can result. It could end up costing you more in the long run when you’re forced to buy medical face ointments to clear up the issue.
Instead, Zitt recommends opting for higher-quality theater makeup or using regular makeup from your own stash. For example, you can use eyeliner to draw cat whiskers, skeletal features, and even creepy veins. A cheaper alternative to Zitt’s suggestion of theater makeup is professional face and body paint.
If you opt for new makeup, buy only nontoxic, hypoallergenic makeup. While nontoxic may seem like a no-brainer, according to the AAP, toxic ingredients have been found in makeup marketed to tweens and teens. Warning signs to look for include:
- Ingredients Listed in a Foreign Language. Ingredients must be listed in English for the product to be lawfully sold in the United States.
- Toxic Ingredients Listed Under a Different Name. For example, if the ingredient “kohl” is listed, it could indicate the product contains lead.
- Talc as an Ingredient. Talc is commonly contaminated with asbestos, a known carcinogen.
And while you should always go with makeup labeled “hypoallergenic,” it doesn’t guarantee you won’t have an allergic reaction. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are no federal standards for the use of the term. So test any new makeup before the big day to ensure it doesn’t cause a reaction. When testing makeup, choose a small, covered area of skin, such as a forearm. Don’t put it on anyone’s face until you know how they’ll react.
21. Avoid Decorative Contact Lenses & Lenses in Fake Glasses
Never wear decorative contact lenses without an eye exam and a prescription from an eye care professional. Decorative lenses are those worn for costume purposes to change the look of your eyes, including changing the color or giving them a unique effect, like a cat’s-eye pupil. However, the FDA oversees them as medical devices, just like regular contact lenses. No matter where you buy them, you need a prescription. If someone sells you a pair without a prescription, they’re breaking federal law and are likely selling you illegal lenses.
Further, the consequences of ill-fitting or contaminated lenses can be severe. The AAP says they include itchy and watery eyes, pain, inflammation, scratched corneas, and infections that can lead to blindness. It’s just not worth the risk.
While not as severe an issue, costume glasses can also pose risks. Mitchell Cassel, a New York-based optometrist at Custom Color Contacts, tells Cosmopolitan that cheap fake glasses contain warped lenses that can impair your vision, cause eyestrain, and give you a headache. But you don’t have to forgo them entirely, especially since fake glasses are a vital piece of many costumes — from Clark Kent to “Scooby Doo’s Velma. Instead, Cassel recommends punching out the frames if they bother you. You’ll still look like the character, but with better vision.
Trick-or-Treating Safety Tips
If you live in an area where there’s high ongoing community spread of the coronavirus — a red zone on the Halloween 2020 map — it’s best to avoid trick-or-treating. If you’re in an orange zone, it’s OK to reverse-trick-or-treat by having kids stand in the yard while neighbors walk through the street, parade-style, and gently toss candy toward kids.
But Sandra Kesh, an infectious disease specialist and the deputy medical director at New York’s Westmed Medical Group, tells Good Housekeeping that in areas where the virus’s prevalence is lower — those are the yellow and green zones on the map — it’s OK to trick-or-treat with caution. That means sticking to the best practices outlined by the CDC. And remember to follow all the general safety precautions that apply to trick-or-treating, pandemic or not.
22. Go With the Kids
Always accompany young kids trick-or-treating. While it depends on the maturity and readiness of your child, Rosina McAlpine, CEO and creator of the Win Win Parenting Program and editor of “Inspired Children: How the Leading Minds of Today Raise Their Kids,” tells PopSugar that most parents feel the ages of 10 to 12 are appropriate for kids to go trick-or-treating on their own. Thus, in general, have an adult accompany children under 10.
If your children are very young — too young to have memorized their address and phone number — pin a piece of paper with their name, address, and phone number to their costume in case you get separated. Kids get excited about running from one house to the next and can easily get lost if they get too far ahead.
23. Lock Up Your House for the Night
If no adult is staying home to pass out candy, lock up your house for the night. Turn off your porch light so trick-or-treaters know to pass by. But do not leave a note on your door telling them you’re not home, as that’s an invitation for burglars. Instead, leave a few lights on inside and possibly even the TV to make it look like you’re home but not participating in trick-or-treating.
24. Stay in Your Pandemic Bubble
To reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, members of different households should not trick-or-treat together this year unless they’re all members of a pandemic bubble.
That also applies to tweens trick-or-treating without parental accompaniment. While in an “ordinary” year, it’s OK to let tweens go with friends, this year, they should only go with those in their pandemic bubble or their classmates (if they’ve been attending school in person). That includes avoiding friends of friends or relatives of friends. In short, they shouldn’t be in close contact with those they haven’t already been exposed to, according to Husain.
And Kesh explains the most significant risk of coronavirus transmission is not passing by other trick-or-treaters, getting too close to those passing out candy, or even sticking your hands in a communal candy bowl (though it’s certainly vital to remember to follow CDC guidelines on those). Rather, it hinges on who you’re trick-or-treating with. The CDC asserts that the virus is primarily spread through close contact with others. And “close contact” means those within 6 feet of you for more than 10 to 15 minutes. For this reason, Kesh recommends limiting groups to no more than three or four kids and only children from the same social bubble or schooling pod.
25. Respect Other Trick-or-Treaters’ Space
Although brief encounters with others outside your household or pandemic bubble are less risky, they’re not without risk. It’s also crucial to be mindful of others’ desire to maintain a safe space, as they may have less tolerance for risk than your own family. So be sure to talk with your family about what it means to maintain a safe space before heading out:
- Don’t pass other trick-or-treaters too closely (within 6 feet) on sidewalks.
- Don’t run up to strangers (or friends if they’re not in your social bubble).
- Wait patiently on the sidewalk or next to the house until one family has finished getting candy before you approach.
- Give families plenty of room to exit a driveway or walkway before you approach.
- Don’t block a walkway’s only exit.
- Don’t take off your mask, even if you think no one else is around, because you never know when another trick-or-treater might come up.
Consider practicing before Halloween night to ensure your kids know what 6 feet of space looks like. And remember, kids get very excited about trick-or-treating. So even the best kids are bound to forget some of the rules, especially if they’re younger. Ultimately, it’s up to you, the parent, to ensure everyone stays safe and respectful and follows all the appropriate guidelines.
26. Set Some Ground Rules
If your tween plans to trick-or-treat without you, be sure to set a few ground rules. These should include:
- Stay in a Group. Even if you live in a quiet neighborhood where you know every neighbor, traveling in a group is always safer.
- Stick to a Defined Route. Tweens should stick to a route they’ve cleared with you that includes safe streets that aren’t heavily trafficked by cars.
- Keep to the Sidewalk. The No. 1 danger to kids on Halloween is drivers that don’t see them. The risk is reduced if kids stay on sidewalks.
- Take a Phone. Even if you aren’t yet ready to give your kids a phone, make sure they have one — even if it’s yours — so they can contact you or 911 in case of an emergency.
- Never Enter a House or Car for a Treat. Unless it’s the home of a relative or close friend, ensure your kids know never to enter someone’s home. The same goes for a vehicle. And they should immediately notify law enforcement of any suspicious activity.
- Ask for Help. Let your kids know that if they require assistance or have any concerns to report, they can always ask for help, whether of police officers or neighborhood patrol volunteers.
- Keep to a Curfew. Some towns set an end time for trick-or-treating. But if not or you want to give your child extra time to hang out at a friend’s house, set a curfew for returning home so you know they’re safe and sound.
27. Stay in Your Neighborhood
In any ordinary year, many kids trick-or-treat in neighborhoods that aren’t their own — whether to score bigger candy bars or because the streets are safer. But this year, it’s a matter of balancing risk. According to Husain, there’s less chance of spreading the coronavirus outside your area if you stick closer to home because your neighbors are people you’ve already been interacting with, even if from a distance.
28. Choose Houses Wisely
Avoid unfamiliar streets or houses that look scary and dangerous. Instead, stick to areas you know well and houses that are well lit. It’s not only safer but standard practice to avoid homes that don’t have their porch light on. That’s a signal there’s no candy available.
Also avoid houses with unleashed dogs barking, baring their teeth, or growling. Dogs can get overly excited around a lot of noise and people, and if a house hasn’t contained their dog for the night, there’s a higher risk the dog could bite someone. Take it as a sign they’re not interested in trick-or-treaters, and move on.
29. Use Hand Sanitizer Frequently
Skip wearing gloves while trick-or-treating, whether they’re medical or go with your costume. Gloves won’t protect you from germs unless you’re trained to use them properly. Rather, because you aren’t washing them after every interaction, they just continue to spread germs around. Instead, Husain recommends carrying hand sanitizer and using it between houses.
Parents should carry and apply hand sanitizer for children too young to understand not to ingest it. Ingesting even a small amount is toxic to kids. Adults and older kids can carry it with them using a lanyard or a holder designed to clip onto a belt or bag. Visit Etsy to find a fun one that’s Halloween themed or matches their costume.
30. Follow the Rules of the Road
To avoid pedestrian injury, the most common injury to children on Halloween, the AAP recommends:
- Sticking to sidewalks and, if no sidewalk is available and you’re forced to walk in the street, walking in the direction facing traffic (on the left in the U.S.) and as close to the edge of the street as possible
- Crossing the street only at established crosswalks
- Never cutting across yards or alleys
- Never crossing between parked cars or out of driveways
- Staying alert for cars at all times (don’t assume they’ll stop, as drivers may have trouble seeing, especially if it’s dark)
And if you will be driving on Halloween, take it slow, get rid of any distractions like cellphones, carefully enter and exit driveways, and watch out for kids who may cross into the street without looking first. According to Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide, kids get so excited on Halloween they may not think about walking safely. Popular trick-or-treating times are 5:30pm to 9:30pm, so be especially alert during those hours. Extra caution will ensure everyone stays safe.
31. Inspect Treats
As long as you inspect them, it’s OK for kids to snack on a piece of candy or two while they’re out trick-or-treating. But save the bulk of the inspections for later at home, when you can examine them more closely. Although there are no known cases of people intentionally tampering with candy, sometimes wrappers can accidentally tear, and bags can come open. Just as you would pass up anything opened or damaged in the grocery because you don’t know what kind of dirt and germs it was exposed to, discard anything that isn’t sealed or has torn packaging. Also toss any homemade treats or repackaged candy.
If your child is under 3, get rid of any potential choking hazards, including hard candies, anything with whole nuts, and small candies like jelly beans, M&M’s, and Skittles. Small toys are also a choking hazard. And don’t give children under 5 chewing gum.
If you have a child with severe food allergies or sensitivities, be sure to read labels very carefully. While you’re probably used to doing so already, most Halloween candy, unfortunately, contains the most common allergens. According to the AAP, these are peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soy, and wheat. And even if they don’t directly contain your child’s allergen, candy often comes from factories that produce other food with that ingredient and can contain trace amounts of it. Worse, according to the AAP, fun-size candies — the type most commonly given out on Halloween — are often manufactured on different equipment than their full-size versions. That means brands your child has eaten without a problem could cause a reaction.
If the ingredients aren’t listed, bag up the candy along with all the other candy your child can’t have (or won’t eat) and leave it with a note asking the “treat fairy” to swap the candy for something they can have, like an allergy-friendly treat or toy. Then make the swap when they’re not looking. That way, they don’t feel distressed they can’t participate in trick-or-treating or enjoy the fruits of their labor.
And don’t worry that you need to disinfect candy from the coronavirus. While research published in March 2020 from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases found that coronavirus particles stay stable on surfaces for up to three days, that discovery was made in a laboratory, and most Halloween candy has less surface area to hold germs. According to the CDC, there are currently no known cases of COVID-19 thought to be caused by touching food or food packaging. Therefore, the risk is very low.
But there may be a risk from germs on one’s hands that then touch food and mouths. So Kesh recommends washing hands before eating. If you want to eat any candy before you get home, first liberally apply hand sanitizer and rub your hands together until they’re dry.
32. Let Your Kids Eat the Candy
Many parents worry about their kids’ overindulgence in candy on Halloween. However, there are plenty of reasons to let those worries go. Dieticians warn against rationing children’s candy, insisting they eat plenty of “real food” before having treats, and even the Switch Witch — the practice of encouraging kids to trade in their candy for a nonfood toy.
In April 2020, The New York Times interviewed multiple nutrition and mental health experts about Halloween candy rules. In the interview, Rebecca Scritchfield, a registered dietitian nutritionist who offers family counseling in Washington, D.C., notes that parents are often so busy worrying about how much sugar their kids eat that they miss out on their kids’ joy over the holiday. Worse, according to Charlotte Markey, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University and author of “Body Image Book for Girls,” notes that numerous research studies dating as far back as the 1980s show that food restriction causes kids to want it more. That includes research from Leann Birch, a developmental psychologist who demonstrated through that pressuring children to eat healthier foods to “earn” their treats caused an increased dislike for vegetables and a stronger craving for candy.
Additionally, Katja Rowell, a family physician and childhood feeding specialist, warns parents to avoid any commentary about whether sugar makes kids hyper or sick. If your conversation with your child is about how candy will make them misbehave, they often live up to expectations. And she also noted that children develop obsessive relationships with sweets when we ban or strictly control sugar. Plus, despite all the anecdotal evidence to the contrary, there’s no evidence sugar causes hyperactivity in kids, Popular Science reports.
Scritchfield notes that for a lot of parents, fatphobia underlies discomfort with sugar. Thus, instead of teaching kids to enjoy treats as part of overall healthy eating patterns, candy gets labeled as “bad” because it might make you fat, and then kids develop shame around wanting it. That’s why many pediatric feeding experts don’t endorse the Switch Witch ritual. It teaches kids it’s wrong to want candy, which can lead to preoccupation and shame with their food choices, symptoms of disordered eating, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Instead, they recommend helping kids learn how to trust themselves. Many refer to Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding. It puts parents in charge of deciding when to feed and what the food options are and children in charge of listening to their bodies and deciding what and how much they eat. In this philosophy, all foods are OK, including Halloween candy.
Emily Fonnesbeck, a registered dietitian and supporter of the method, tells Mother.ly it’s normal for kids to eat more than necessary on Halloween night. And she recommends parents allow it. After Halloween, she advises parents to use a flexible structure where, as in Satter’s method, parents set meal and snack times and allow kids to have one or two pieces of candy with their meal or snack if they request it.
If we make sugar a big deal, it becomes a big deal, Fonnesbeck says. But if we talk about it like any other food, it becomes more likely for kids to self-regulate.
Safety Tips for Passing Out Candy
If you’re passing out candy, ensure the process is safe for all the kids who come to visit by following all the usual guidelines as well as the safety recommendations for managing COVID-19. And let your neighbors know you’re taking the appropriate precautions and following all recommended guidelines by taking the pledge on the Halloween 2020 website (located at the bottom of the homepage). Then print the safe house certificate to post on your property.
33. Safety-Proof Your Yard
According to Kevin Greer, a doctor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Health Davie Medical Center, Halloween is a common holiday for children to get injuries that require a trip to the emergency room. Greer encourages homeowners to take steps to ensure trick-or-treaters are safe on their property.
- Remove Tripping Hazards. Put away anything visitors could trip over, like garden hoses, lawn ornaments, toys, and bikes.
- Clear Debris From Walkways. Clear wet leaves, fallen branches, and other debris from any walking paths.
- Replace Burned-Out Light Bulbs. Ensure walking paths are well lit by replacing any burned-out bulbs before Halloween night.
- Turn on the Lights. If you’re passing out candy, it’s common practice to let trick-or-treaters know by turning on your porch light. But it’s also a safety issue. Make sure you turn on as many lights as possible. The more well lit the path, the less chance for trick-or-treaters to trip and fall over hazards they didn’t see — including steps and cracks in concrete walkways.
- Control Pets. Don’t take a chance your pet gets frightened by all the commotion and chases or bites a child who comes to your door. Though most animals are friendly, even the best pets can get spooked. And according to the AAP, children ages 5 to 9 are victims of animal bites more than any other age group, followed by children ages 9 to 14. So make sure this community celebration doesn’t turn dangerous and keep your pets locked up.
34. Only Pass Out Store-Bought Wrapped Candy
Although it’s long been standard practice, it bears repeating: Only pass out wrapped, store-bought candy. Never pass out homemade treats or repackage candies. For example, don’t buy a bulk bag of M&M’s and portion them into baggies yourself. Opt for fun-size M&M’s instead.
That’s essential for food safety every year. But it’s also vital for reducing the transmission of COVID-19. According to the CDC, the virus is airborne and not foodborne. However, there remains the possibility of risk when multiple hands are touching surfaces. To avoid that risk, buy prepackaged candy. According to Husain, any store-bought wrapped candy is typically safe.
35. Package Wrapped Candy
To further reduce the risk of multiple hands contaminating surfaces, the CDC recommends avoiding the communal candy bowl. Instead, take an additional precaution and package whatever wrapped candy you’re doling out to trick-or-treaters, whether that’s one fun-size Snickers or three, into zip-close or paper bags or small disposable cups or ramekins. Then line them up at the end of your driveway or on a table set up for the purpose.
For added fun, decorate the bags with Halloween themes. Some ideas include:
- Use a black marker to draw ghost faces on white paper bags.
- Decorate brown paper bags with Halloween stamps.
- Decorate bags with Halloween stickers.
- Print images and affix them to paper bags like the ones by Ashley Hackshaw.
- If you’re using zip-close bags, print a Halloween label and staple it over the top (zipper) part of the bag, as shown on Better Homes & Gardens.
- Draw ghost faces on white paper cups like the ones by Ashley Phipps (you could also draw jack-o’-lantern faces on orange cups).
If you’d rather not DIY, find inexpensive treat bags printed with Halloween themes on Amazon.
The CDC also recommends you wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing the bags.
36. Consider Offering Alternative Treats
No one wants to be the hated house that passes out raisins, and there’s no judgment here on giving kids free license to gorge on sweets on a candy-related holiday. However, there are many kids unable to enjoy normal Halloween candy due to allergies and food sensitivities. That makes Halloween one of the trickiest times of year for children with food allergies. And according to the BBC, allergies are becoming increasingly common. The news organization reports on numerous studies, including a 2016 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, that show food allergies are on the rise globally, particularly in the West.
To help allergy sufferers, whose reactions to certain foods can be severe and even deadly, Food Allergy Research & Education started the Teal Pumpkin Project, which promotes safe trick-or-treating options for food-allergic children. The project suggests passing out alternative treats like glow sticks, spider rings, pencils, bubbles, bouncy balls, finger puppets, whistles, bookmarks, stickers, and stencils. As an extra precaution against coronavirus germs, you should package these individually so kids can grab them without sticking their hands in a communal bowl. And if you plan to offer any of these allergy-free alternatives, set out a teal pumpkin to let trick-or-treaters know.
37. Be Mindful of Others’ Risk Tolerance
It’s tempting to approach trick-or-treaters when they come to your house for candy. After all, that’s what many of us have done for years. But it’s critical to be mindful of others’ safety and their personal risk tolerance as well as your own. As the person passing out the candy, you’re responsible for maintaining a safe distance from trick-or-treaters. That means wearing a mask, standing back at least 6 feet, and (if you’re standing behind one) not opening your glass door to talk.
In addition to preserving everyone’s safety, it also avoids awkwardness when you inadvertently violate others’ risk tolerance. If you get too close to your neighbors, they’ll be left to decide if they should risk exposure by accepting the candy or risk feeling rude and passing on your gift.
To maintain a safe distance, if you’re not at high risk for developing complications from COVID-19, you can set out candy on the end of your driveway and wave at trick-or-treaters from the safe distance of your front porch. Alternatively, you can set out a table with candy and sit on the other side of it, at least 6-feet back. Or opt for a safe candy-delivery method, like a candy chute made of a rain gutter and PVC pipe that lets you slide candy into trick-or-treaters buckets while you stand 6 feet back. See how to make it on the YouTube channel WhatsUpMoms.
If you’re high risk but committed to passing out candy, the safest option is to stay inside. If you have a glass storm door, you can set up candy outside and wave at trick-or-treaters from safely behind it while it remains closed.
Also consider helping everyone remember the “rules” amid all the excitement of trick-or-treating. Use electrical tape, duct tape, or glow-in-the-dark tape to mark off 6-foot sections on your driveway or walkway, just as they do in check-out lanes in stores.
38. Set Out Hand Sanitizer
Ideally, trick-or-treaters should carry a bottle of hand sanitizer with them. But it doesn’t hurt for candy-givers to put a pump out next to the candy. According to the CDC, maintaining good hand hygiene is one of the top things we can do to help prevent coronavirus spread.
39. Disinfect High-Touch Surfaces
Once the festivities are over, wash your hands to ensure you aren’t carrying any germs back into your house. Then disinfect any high-touch surfaces. According to Kesh, these include any doorknobs, doorbells, and buzzers you or trick-or-treaters used. Disinfectants effective at killing the coronavirus include bleach, ammonia, and hydrogen peroxide. For a complete list of brand-specific products effective for coronavirus disinfecting, visit the CDC.
Safety Tips for Attending Halloween Parties
In addition to trick-or-treating, the CDC also offers recommendations for hosting and attending Halloween parties.
40. Avoid Big Indoor Parties
The CDC considers large parties — those with more than 10 people in attendance — to be a high-risk activity, especially if they’re held indoors. So, if you’re going to have a party, be sure to keep it small. And to further reduce risk, keep it outside. Ideally, limit your guests to your pandemic bubble.
If you’re in an area with fewer confirmed coronavirus cases (a green zone on the Halloween 2020 map), it can be safe to host an outdoor block party — but only with your neighbors. And all the usual precautions still apply — wear a mask, maintain good hand hygiene, and keep your distance from others outside your household. Setting up food and game tables in driveways families can rotate through one at a time helps ensure social distancing.
If you must have an indoor party, limit it to the CDC recommended number, and open all your windows to keep air circulating. Everyone should wear masks. Opt for a mask bracket if it enables you to keep your mask on longer. And avoid eating at the dinner table so people outside your household aren’t in close contact for long periods while not wearing a mask. Also be sure to set up a way for non-household members to maintain 6 feet of distance. While there’s always the chance guests might get too close, the more precautions you take, the safer your party will be.
But even if you’re in a green zone, that doesn’t mean a neighbor hasn’t been exposed. So following safety precautions helps your area stay in the green.
If you’re in an area with a moderate number of cases (yellow), you can opt for an outdoor neighborhood block party, but it’s still safest to skip indoor activities.
And if you’re in an area with a high number of cases (an orange or red zone), you should only have parties with people in your household or pandemic bubble.
41. Limit Close Contact
Even if you’re partying outside, it’s still a good idea to keep a distance of 6 feet or more from others and wear a mask. Additionally, minimize gestures that require close contact — like handshakes, elbow bumps, and hugs. Instead, wave and verbally greet others. Also be mindful of times when it’s harder to maintain distance. For example, avoid using restrooms at high-traffic times, such as the end of an event.
42. Limit Contact With High-Touch Surfaces
The CDC recommends individuals limit contact with high-touch surfaces like shared seating, tables, and serving utensils. If you’re the host of a party, frequently clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and shared items. Use touchless garbage cans, if possible. And use gloves when handling or disposing of trash. Be sure to wash your hands after removing the gloves.
43. Enjoy Food Safely
While there’s currently no evidence to suggest that handling food or eating is associated with spreading the coronavirus, it is at least theoretically possible to get sick by touching a surface or object and then touching one’s mouth, nose, or eyes. That includes utensils used to serve food. Additionally, it’s always essential to maintain good hygiene to reduce foodborne illnesses.
So if you’re hosting, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing and serving food. And if you’re a party guest, be sure to wash your hands before and after eating.
Also consider avoiding self-serve food options like buffets or condiment and drink stations. Opt instead for single-use condiments, single-use plastic utensils and paper plates, and grab-and-go meal options like prepackaged sandwiches and individual bags of chips.
If you use anything reusable, such as cloth tablecloths, wash them after the party.
44. Get Creative About Your Celebrations
There are plenty of ways to party safely this Halloween. It just requires a little creativity. For example, skip the crowded indoor costume party and opt instead for a socially distanced outdoor block party where guests rotate family-by-family from one neighbor’s driveway to another. Or set up the movie projector in your backyard and host an outdoor movie marathon for a few friends. And if you want to party in the safest way possible, host a Zoom dance party and gather with your friends to do the “Time Warp” together.
Safety Tips for Visiting Haunted Houses
In many areas, haunted houses are out for this year. But if visiting one is a Halloween tradition you can’t pass up, it’s still possible to enjoy them as long as you take precautions.
45. Avoid Indoor Haunted Houses
Going to an indoor haunted house, especially one where people are crowded together and screaming, is deemed a high-risk activity by the CDC. That makes sense since indoor activities pose a higher risk of transmission than outdoor activities. Additionally, screaming increases the distance to which people expel the high-risk respiratory droplets the CDC notes are the primary way to spread the disease.
46. Maintain Extra Distance in Haunted Forests
Although indoor haunted houses are out, the CDC deems outdoor haunted forests a moderate-risk activity. They can be safe as long as you take certain precautions. These include ensuring everyone wears a mask, keeping walkways one-way, and making sure visitors maintain at least 6 feet of distance from each other. If there will be screaming involved — which is likely with a haunted attraction — guests should maintain an even greater distance.
Before visiting a haunted forest, make sure these safety measures are in place.
47. Stick to Drive-Thru Experiences
For even greater safety, get your scares from the comfort of your vehicle. In response to the ongoing pandemic, many haunted attractions have adapted to offer drive-thru experiences. These include all the same thrills and chills you’re used to with a walk-through experience. But you can safely scream all you want from behind your glass car window. Search online for “drive-thru haunted houses near me” or “haunted roads near me” to find one in your area.
Tips for Attending Fall Events
Fall events like festivals, hayrides, apple-picking, and pumpkin-picking are also a cherished part of many families’ Halloween celebrations. But as with other festivities, staying safe requires a few adaptations.
48. Avoid Hayrides & Tractor Rides
The CDC puts hayrides or tractor rides with people not in your household in the high-risk category for spreading COVID-19. Although an outdoor fall activity, it requires sitting in close contact with others. If the farm or festival you’re visiting offers private hayrides, they’re perfectly safe so long as you can maintain your distance from the driver or other facilitators.
49. Avoid Fall Festivals
Traveling to attend a rural fall festival is also high-risk, according to the CDC. Rural communities are relatively isolated bubbles, but when outside visitors come for a festival, they can potentially spread infections. That’s especially true for highly popular festivals that bring hundreds of thousands of visitors into small communities.
For example, in late August, close to 500,000 visitors from around the country converged in rural South Dakota for the annual Sturgis biker rally. Overall, attendees did not wear masks or observe social distancing practices. A September 2020 study by economists associated with the Center for Health Economics and Policy Studies at San Diego State University found the event likely led to widespread infection. The study used anonymized cellphone data to track attendees while excluding those not associated with the rally. It then compared the travel patterns with CDC case counts and linked 260,000 cases back to the rally. The study methodology has since been criticized, including by researchers from Johns Hopkins. However, although the John Hopkins researchers found fault with their arrival at the total number of cases, they concluded the study’s premise — that the rally resulted in a spike in COVID-19 cases — was well supported. According to the researchers, the data showed a definitive increase in cases of community spread that couldn’t be attributed to anything but the event.
But for many rural communities, festivals are also big business. That means they may find creative ways to adapt to the situation. The annual fall festival we attend is doing just that. It’s hosting a drive-thru experience where visitors can still enjoy the classic pumpkin treats the festival is famous for along with the ability to pick up the food from the safety of their cars. So it’s worth investigating if your favorite fall festival is doing something similar.
50. Check Safety Measures at Apple Orchards & Pumpkin Patches
Outdoor activities like apple- and pumpkin-picking are less risky activities because they happen outdoors. However, they’re not entirely without risks. Orchards and pumpkin patches can still get crowded, making social distancing difficult. And there’s always the risk of multiple hands touching shared surfaces.
So before visiting an orchard or pumpkin patch, look into the safety measures they have in place to ensure you’re comfortable with them. Regardless, use hand sanitizer before and after touching apples or picking pumpkins and wash your hands after you bring them home.
As the U.S. undergoes the second wave of COVID-19, it’s vital we take care of ourselves and others by practicing good hand hygiene, wearing a mask when we’re around others, and maintaining social distance. At the same time, our well being also involves participating in things that make life worth living. So sometimes, it’s about finding that right balance for ourselves.
Fortunately, you can lower the risk by following the CDC guidelines or thinking creatively about alternative ways to celebrate Halloween safely. And as much as it matters that we take the time to bond with friends and family, we also need to remember that some of the steps we take to protect ourselves and our loved ones are also steps that protect everyone. Whether it’s making sure no flames get near a costume, eliminating trip hazards from our yards, or preventing the spread of coronavirus germs by wearing our face masks and keeping a safe distance from others, these measures help keep everyone safe and healthy.
What are you doing to ensure you, your loved ones, and your community stay safe this Halloween?