Pediatricians Reveal How They Feel About Trick-Or-Treating This Year
Public health experts advise against traditional trick or treating, but have also provided advice to make the activity less risky. (Photo: Onfokus via Getty Images)
As Halloween approaches, many parents are wondering how to celebrate the holidays with their COVID-19 children.
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines advising against traditional trick-or-treating "where treats are given to door-to-door children," but ideas for less risky ways to learn to participate in the tradition, such as “scavenger hunts”, trick-or-treat searches in style or socially distant goodie bag offers. While some officials are canceling or strongly discouraging trick-or-treating in their communities this year, others continue to allow it.
As early as 2020, children are grappling with so many disruptions and disappointments that only natural families want to convey a semblance of normalcy with Halloween fun. But there are obviously major concerns.
Nearly 60% of the 600 families surveyed by the education company Outschool said they did not feel safe this year, while the National Retail Federation's 2020 Halloween Survey found 23% of respondents plan to participate.
The situation is complicated and child health experts understand the battle. In just a few weeks, October 31st, we asked pediatricians across the country to share their trick or treating thoughts - if they found it safe, their families would attend and what precautions or alternatives they would recommend.
"To be on the safe side and to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, families shouldn't do trick or treating as usual this year."
"The COVID-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of our lives, including the way we celebrate holidays like Halloween 2020. To be safe and prevent the spread of the coronavirus, families shouldn't trick or treat as usual this year to do." My family plans to have a sense of Halloween normal by decorating their home, wearing costumes, making treats, and watching a kid-friendly scary movie. The grand finale will be a scavenger hunt around the house. So my children are really looking forward to our new Halloween. My message to everyone is to have fun, get creative, and be safe. "- Dr. Candice W. Jones, a pediatrician practicing in Orlando for 14 years
"I would consider other ideas, like a friend or two for an outdoor get-together, a socially distant outside 'parade', or a virtual Halloween costume contest."
“Halloween is a fun holiday and should be celebrated, but this year it needs to be changed so we can make sure children and families are safe. That means being more creative. I don't think kids should be doing trick or treating the traditional way this year as it can be risky. But we can still decorate, carve pumpkins, and make costumes. Parents need to remind their children and make sure they also practice social distancing and wear masks when we are with people outside of our household. It is important to remember that a Halloween costume mask is not enough to protect against COVID-19. Cloth masks must be worn. So remember to get creative with other parts of the costume.
“I wouldn't take my kid to the traditional trick or treating this year. I would consider other ideas, however, like having a friend or two for an outdoor get-together, a socially distant outside "parade", or a virtual Halloween costume contest. I also liked the idea of doing a scavenger hunt among neighbors where families in their costumes are socially distant.
"It's really important to improvise and be creative, wear cloth masks and keep your distance. Trick or treat often leads to lots of kids gathering and talking, which are very risky activities. I think we can join in on Halloween safely enjoy other types of fun as noted above. Also, remember to do the usual safe things like washing hands and not overeating sugary sweets before you eat! ”- Dr. Hansa Bhargava, Pediatrician and Senior Medical Director of WebMD
"[S] et a socially distant one-way trick-or-treating, in which children pick up individually wrapped goodies from participating houses."
“Halloween and trick or treating are a high point of childhood. Unfortunately, trick or treating may not be the safest way to celebrate this year. The CDC classifies traditional trick or treating as high risk during the pandemic. This is because children and parents gather at the doors, expose their neighbors, and put their hands in treat bowls that may spread germs on the surface of treat packaging. In San Diego County, the health department does not recommend this either. If my teenagers want to do trick or treating I wouldn't let it, but I would offer to have a fun evening at home, enjoying Halloween-themed treats and movies. For parents who really want to continue the tradition, I recommend talking to your friends and neighbors to set up a socially distant one-way trick-or-treating, where kids pick up individually wrapped goodies from participating families. Everyone should still wear face covering and keep their distance. Don't forget that everyone will wash their hands when they get home before enjoying their goodies. Although this Halloween will be very different with a little creativity and determination, parents can still make it fun. "- Dr. Jaime Friedman, a San Diego pediatrician and director of marketing for Children's Primary Care Medical Group
"I will skip the houses that don't offer easily accessible goodies from their driveways or patios and avoid getting close to other family groups."
“Trick or treat can happen this year, but not the 2019 version. As the holiday season begins, we must be ready to change our traditions and change our expectations for gatherings and celebrations. This does not mean that you should not attend vacation events. This means that parents need to set safe boundaries and acceptable opportunities for events to continue.
“Especially on Halloween it is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect that children change their behavior themselves. Children get excited and have high expectations based on what they know from the past. It is up to parents to manage their local infection rates and personal risk factors to ensure safe and fun participation for 2020.
“Our community prices are stable right now, so I would show my kids around our neighborhood and allow them to accept treats from neighbors who have opted for social distancing and are wearing masks. I skip the houses that don't offer easily accessible goodies from their driveways or patios and avoid getting close to other family groups.
"Aside from routine costume and safety tips, I would also be sure my kids weren't eating treats on the track. It's important to wait to wash hands before digging in. My kids will wear face covers outside. We'll be traveling as a family unit and friends wave that we could pass by. Especially when my kids are unable to distance themselves or when things are uncomfortable, I go home early to see hot cocoa and a family friendly Halloween movie. A fun plan B is a must just in case you need to change course at the last minute. "- Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician at the practice in Overland Park, Kansas
"I could imagine how to build a functional drape or a surgical mask into the costume. Mom, someone? Ninja? The surgeon?"
“Much of the way we traditionally celebrated Halloween could incorporate appropriate COVID-19 precautions. For example, children and families can usually try trick or treating outside. Wearing masks is obviously part of the tradition, although I would envision building a functional drape or surgical mask into the costume (mom, anyone? Ninja? Surgeon?) And keeping the eyes clear for safety reasons. Doorbells and candy that others may have handled pose some obvious risks, but a healthy splash of isopropyl hand sanitizer between houses should take care of that. Spreading candy requires no less than two meters away if you leave a container on the porch or have a good limb. The greatest precaution would be not to gather in large groups and instead hold the capsule together as a family, or if you already have a capsule ("invasion of the body catcher," anyone?). "- Dr. David L. Hill, a pediatrician in Wayne County, North Carolina
If your trick or treat is your decision, face masks are a must. (Photo: Juanmonino via Getty Images)
"Don't open candy while you are drinking a trick or a treat. Wait until you get home to wash your hands first."
“As a behavioral pediatrician and mother of two children, I was asked about Halloween in general and whether my children could go. I think it's important for kids to have fun ways to celebrate this holiday but still stay safe. My kids are back in school now, my daughter visits in person five days a week, and my middle school age son has a hybrid schedule and takes turns visiting them in person. Now that we are in a "new normal" my kids hope to be able to attend Halloween! So yes, I allow it, but with safety precautions as we are still in the COVID pandemic.
“Here are my pointers for my own children, and what I would recommend: If families decide to allow their children trick or treat, come with them. This is a great way to ensure that they follow your rules and are safe. Everyone should still wear face coverings / masks and stick to six feet or more of social distancing. This means waiting on the sidewalk if someone is already at the door in front of you. Do not allow children to touch every piece of candy. Get a piece and move on. Or parents can be the one who gets it. Do not open candy while doing trick or treating. Wait until you get home to wash your hands first.
"When serving candy, you should put out a bowl of candy, put on your mask, and allow each child / adult to get one or two pieces - or to hand out a trick or treat to a single person. If you don't want to attend, don't turn on the lights on your porch. Other fun things families can do to celebrate Halloween: Prepare popcorn, candy apples, or any other candy for a family movie or game night. Get dressed and have a virtual boo party with friends and family. Go on a fun indoor Halloween scavenger hunt and hide goodies that your own kids can find in costume. As a family, carve pumpkins or visit a pumpkin patch. "- Dr. Nerissa Bauer, a behavioral pediatrician in Indianapolis, Indiana
"[T] take precautions by following the 3 Ws - wear a mask, wash your hands, and watch your distance."
"Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta agrees with the CDC guidelines that strongly recommend avoiding high-risk activities like trick or treating this Halloween." There are plenty of fun and family-friendly alternatives like decorating pumpkins with members of your household, holding a virtual costume contest, or planning a themed scavenger hunt around your home that we recommend instead. If families plan to have personal celebrations, they should take precautions by following the 3 Ws - wear a mask, wash your hands, and be careful of your distance. It's important to remember that COVID-19 isn't the only virus floating around this fall. Following the 3 Ws and vaccinating against the flu before Halloween is key to preventing "twemight" this cold and flu season. "- Dr. James D. Fortenberry, Chief Medical Officer and Chief Medical Officer at Children's Healthcare in Atlanta
“We should all ask ourselves: What is the COVID-19 situation in my community? Are the cases under control or are they increasing? "
“It's been a tough year for all of us, and children have suffered as much as adults. We have seen anxiety and depression in children and teens at all-time highs in the past few months. Maintaining that sense of normalcy during the vacation will bring a level of joy and excitement that kids haven't had in a long time and need now more than ever.
“In that sense, Halloween won't look the same this year. There are important things to consider before deciding whether to go out to traditional trick or treating or other Halloween gatherings for our kids this year. We should all be asking ourselves: How is the COVID-19 situation in my community? Are cases under control or are they increasing? If you are attending a meeting, where is the place? Outdoor gatherings are preferable. How long does it take? Shorter duration is better. How many people will there be? A small gathering with people you know is best. Is this activity a lower or higher risk for my child or for members or our family? Do we have high-risk family members?
“The decision whether kids can trick or treat or participate in other Halloween events must be a decision each family makes for itself. However, we should consider the following: Who should NOT do trick or treating? According to the CDC, children who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and have not met the criteria that allow them to be safely around others have children with symptoms of COVID-19, children who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 the last 14 days and children who are at increased risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
Trick or Treat Precautions: Have your child wear a cloth mask and gloves, have easy access to hand sanitizer, and minimize the number of homes visited, especially outside your neighborhood.
“Some alternatives to traditional trick-or-treating could include an outdoor movie night with a small group of friends with social distancing and masks. Neighborhood outdoor pumpkin decorating contest; Outdoor Halloween scavenger hunts in the neighborhood; and small outdoor Halloween costume parades in the neighborhood.
If your neighborhood is a traditional trick or treat, plan on bringing individually wrapped children's bags out of your porch or front door to minimize multiple hands in a candy bowl. My kids are older, but my 14 year old is looking forward to a little outdoor gathering or a movie night with friends. "- Dr. Jacqueline Winkelmann, pediatrician at Orange County Children's Hospital
"I've heard of people making 'candy chutes,' where they give treats to trick or treating in a non-contact but fun way."
“Even though it's Halloween, the nature of COVID-19 hasn't changed. The best way to reduce the risk of exposure for you and your family is to distance yourself physically, practice good hand hygiene, and wear a mask (for children 2 years and older). If your family still has some trick or treating plans, your group should be limited to members of your own household, rather than multiple families together. I would recommend that children wear a regular mask that can be themed to match their costume, rather than a costume mask over a regular mask.
“My recommendation is to skip big parties and gatherings this year and create new Halloween family traditions instead. Children can still dress in costume at home, watch family Halloween movies together, create Halloween treats or handicrafts. Parents or caregivers can buy their children's favorite Halloween candy and possibly go on a scavenger hunt or “Easter egg hunt” around the house for their children to enjoy.
“If families want to eliminate the risk of exposure to COVID-19, they may not attend Halloween in the traditional sense. They can turn off their outside lights and not open the door to say trick or treating. However, when homeowners plan to participate in the candy distribution, they have a unique opportunity to get creative on how to do it safely and maintain physical distance. I've heard of people making "candy slides," where they give treats to trick or treating in a non-contact, yet fun, way. It is very important that candies are individually wrapped when you hand them out. "- Jean Moorjani, pediatrician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children
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