Individually wrapped Halloween treats are shown.
By safely handing out individually wrapped treats, you can spare children from dipping their hands into a bucket of candy. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

In a year already haunted by unwelcome tricks, those hoping for Halloween treats might be in for a few twists.

Sure, many of the go-to Halloween traditions might not be recommended during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But with a little creativity, Halloween fun can be had by all.

It’ll just require a bit of social distancing and other precautions.

“Given the ongoing threat of COVID-19, we need to be very careful about selecting our Halloween festivities,” said Rosemary Olivero, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued guidelines for celebrating Halloween safely this year. The agency divided Halloween activities into categories based on risk—low, moderate and high.

Landing in the high-risk category? Unfortunately, some Halloween favorites:

  • Traditional trick-or-treating where children go door-to-door for candy
  • Popular trunk-or-treat events where treats are handed from trunks of cars in large parking lots
  • Indoor costume parties
  • Indoor haunted houses
  • Hayrides with people from outside your household

In the moderate risk category is a new version of trick-or-treating: walking one way down a street, where individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up at the end of a driveway or on the side of a yard. Families can grab them and go, all while maintaining social distancing.

Also included in the moderate risk possibilities:

  • Outdoor costume parades with people from individual households spaced 6 feet or more apart
  • Outdoor parties with masks and social distancing
  • A variety of outdoor activities, including outdoor haunted houses, pumpkin patches, orchards, movie nights, etc. These are all do-able with proper precautions.

Lower-risk activities include virtual celebrations and contactless delivery of treats to friends and neighbors.

Safely spooky

Some may feel the CDC guidance is too restrictive, Dr. Olivero said, but everyone should think about how those traditional Halloween activities are carried out.

“Trick-or-treating, while it is an outdoor activity, is often done in groups—and kids and adults huddle together in tight lines waiting for candy to be handed out,” she said.

She urged everyone to remember the COVID-19 safety basics:

  • Wear a mask, even when outdoors
  • Maintain a safe social distance, patiently waiting for the group in front of you to clear out
  • Wash hands whenever possible
  • Use sanitizer between each candy pick-up

“Crowd control is really important,” Dr. Olivero said. “Especially with older kids and teens, they tend to gather together. We’re generally trying to discourage that type of behavior.”

If you’re a homeowner looking to share treats, you need to take precautions.

Leaving a bowl of candy on your front porch for children to dig into could be even worse than handing it out, she said. Many kids with un-sanitized hands will reach into the same bowl, touching pieces of candy destined for other trick-or-treaters.

Individually prepared bags that children can pick up—without touching the other bags—is a safer approach. You can also promote social distancing.

Another possibility, with neighborhood coordination: Have the kids stay in their driveways and have adults throw candy to them from a distance.

Monster masks

In its guidelines, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services offered some tips for homeowners:

  • Place a table between yourself and trick-or-treaters.
  • Place a piece of duct tape every 6 feet leading up to the candy distribution spot.
  • Distribute candy on a disinfected table.
  • Hand out candy in an open space where distancing is easier, rather than at the front door.

Most importantly, if you or your children are sick, you need to forego Halloween celebrations of any kind, Dr. Olivero said.

“Don’t have Halloween be an excuse to go out when you’re sick,” she said. “This is not the year to go out and tough it out.”

Those at higher risk of complications from COVID-19 should also be extra careful.

“You don’t have to welcome people to your house to trick-or-treat,” she said. “It’s OK to turn off your light.”

If you’re elderly or at high risk of COVID-19—but you still want to give treats to the special children in your life—you can organize a special time for a socially distanced drop-off, Dr. Olivero said. You can also send a festive e-card or decorate the outside of your home.

One fun aspect of Halloween in COVID-19 times: the opportunity to embrace mask-wearing like never before.

“It’s important to think about the general standards for masks and how they would or would not apply for Halloween costumes,” she said. “You want to have a suitable mask that meets the CDC’s guidelines.”

That includes two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers the nose and mouth and doesn’t leave gaps around the face. Neck gaiters and bandanas are not recommended.

“This might be a great opportunity to incorporate a cloth mask into your costume,” Dr. Olivero said. “Dress up as a doctor or a surgeon, a construction worker or a Hazmat worker. Maybe you can have fun with dressing up with a mask that way.”

Another important thing to keep in mind: Pay attention to the COVID-19 infection rates in the state of Michigan and in your county. Numbers could change between now and Halloween, making some activities less safe as the big day approaches.

“Halloween can still be a festive celebration while keeping your kids and community safe,” Dr. Olivero said. “It’s time to get creative. Think about some alternatives to trick-or-treating, such as family movie night, using your yard or woods for a goodie hunt and having virtual costume parties on your favorite video platform.”