COVID-19: Families, Health Officials Prepare for a Different Kind of Trick-or-Treating this Halloween

As Halloween approaches, government officials, health professionals, parents, and kids are all preparing for the ways trick-or-treating will be different this year. 

“If COVID doesn’t get better, I’ll be watching a movie with my family,” said 8-year-old Mukund. “And I’ll be doing some more fun things. My mom’s planning a scavenger hunt, so that would be fun, then.” 

Earlier this month, the City of Philadelphia released its guidelines for safely celebrating Halloween, advising individuals on what to do if they intend on going trick-or-treating or give out candy. 

“Philadelphians will need to do a bit more to stay safe while trick-or-treating,” said a spokesperson from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health in an email sent to Philadelphia Neighborhoods. “Families are still allowed to trick or treat, but are advised to stay outside, keep their distance from treat-givers and other trick-or-treaters, and to minimize the number of houses they visit.” 

Though Philadelphia and surrounding municipalities have not banned trick-or-treating, some parents remain unsure about if their kids will participate this year.

Sherin Kurian lives in Bucks County and has a 2-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter. 

“We are actually very nervous about it and debating, honestly, on whether we should go trick-or-treating or not, just because of safety concerns,” she said. “I do feel like people aren’t 100% careful, and we still see people walking around without masks and without social distancing.”

Even if neighbors aren’t handing out candy face-to-face, other factors beyond Kurian’s control make her nervous.

“A lot of people have it where you grab the candy out of the bowl,” she said. “So, the hand is going into the candy bowl to get the candy, different hands going in, so we’re very nervous about it.” 

Public health guidelines encourage people to not hand out treats in person, maintain 6-foot distance, and frequently wash hands. 

“Anyone that is currently sick should stay home and away from other folks,” Philadelphia Department of Public Health officials said. “Everyone should wear a mask — not just a Halloween mask, but an actual face mask, too — and try to stay at least 6-feet away from folks who aren’t in their household.”

Philadelphia’s guidelines also offer alternative ideas on ways to celebrate Halloween, such as decorating one’s home, hosting a movie night, carving pumpkins, or organizing a virtual costume contest with families and friends. 

Mukund still plans on dressing up for fun.

“I technically am going to be dressing up, but I’m not going to be trick or treating,” he said. “I got this bear for my birthday. I took all the stuffing out of it and its backbone. And I got into the costume, and it fits perfectly. So that’s what I’m basically gonna be for Halloween.”

Mukund shows off his Halloween costume. (Photo courtesy Mukund)

For families interested in going out, some basic guidelines will help keep people safe, Joan Serota, a nurse practitioner at Ambler Pediatrics, said.

“If children are dressing up to go out, families should make sure costumes allow children to comfortably follow coronavirus safety guidelines,” she said. “Only use a protective face mask with a costume. Do not use the costume mask with the face mask. It may affect breathing.”

Jacob Phillip, also from Bucks County, is the father of an 11-year-old daughter, a 10-year-old daughter, and a 17-year-old son. He plans to just buy candy for the kids but there won’t be any plans to go out.

“I might still leave some candy out there or something like that,” he said. “Even if there’s any leftover, we are probably going to be throwing it out.”

Parents looking for ways to celebrate can still plan alternative activities.

“There are lots of ways to celebrate Halloween,” Serota said. “Lots of outdoor activities with family or close friends can be considered. Such as a scavenger hunt, outdoor movie night, small group for pumpkin decorating. Decorate your house with lots of Halloween items, check with local zoos or other venues that will have limited outdoor fun activities.”

Kurian plans to take her kids to a trunk-or-treating event hosted by her son’s elementary school class. 

“The parents are going to decorate their cars,” Kurian said. “They’re going to just bag the candy and hand them out, and everybody’s going to be wearing masks.”

The event will feature just 14 families from her son’s class, and Kurian feels that this kind of event offers a little more control. 

“We know the source of the candy,” she said. “We know nobody’s sick and it’s still an experience for them not to miss out on Halloween.”

However, she plans on throwing out the candy from the event afterward. 

“We’re not going to let them eat it,” she said. “We are just going to let them have separate candy.”

Phillip’s daughter Anna doesn’t feel comfortable going out and thinks there won’t be a lot of people going trick-or-treating in her neighborhood. 

“I don’t think anyone’s going to go, especially me,” she said. “You don’t know where the candy has been or who has touched it.”

Kurian explained that some parents won’t be handing out candy or may not be handing it out at the door. 

“I know one of my colleagues said she’s gonna just wrap a bunch of candy and then just lay it out on her front porch,” she said.

Serota believes as long as a person can trust the source of the candy, they can feel safe enjoying it. 

“If the candy is from a friend, neighbor, or family member who you know has been well, there should be no problem,” she said. “If not, the candy should be set aside for a couple of days to avoid any possible germs. If there is any question regarding the safety of the candy, then it would be best to discard.”

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