The COVID 19 pandemic has turned families’ lives upside down. The school was cancelled. The summer camp was cancelled. Sports were cancelled. Concerts were cancelled. It might feel easier to list the things we can do than all the things we can’t do.
But fear not, parents: Halloween isn’t dead this year (and no, I don’t mean in that kind of zombie apocalypse undead).
Sure, it won’t be the Halloween of our childhood. But then again, our parents let us ride in the back seat of Mom’s minivan without seatbelts, let alone car seats, so hey, change can be good.
As a mom, I want my kids to be safe and have fun. The fall vacation is important for us and our morale, especially in such a tough year. But as a front-line emergency room doctor advising schools on COVID 19 protocols, I know that Halloween is not worth an outbreak (and no one wants to be the family that quarantines the class).
So even though the situation is different for everyone, I recommend the following for most families this year.
Important caveat 1: Apart from staying at home, there is no zero risk option. Every option involves a certain amount of risk, which is why this is about intelligent risk reduction.
Important caveat 2: If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that flexibility is the key. We plan and plan – but if the numbers are rising or if there is a threat or locust plague, then these plans change.
What’s right for your family depends on a few key factors:
(a) Does anyone in your family have a high risk of COVID complications or is they in close contact with people who have COVID?
(b) What is the positivity rate in your district (see here)? It indicates the probability that you will come into contact with someone who is infected (whether they know it or not).
(c) What are the security restrictions in your state? This indicates the likelihood that the infected person in (b) will take reasonable precautions to reduce their risk of spreading COVID-19.
How to keep Halloween great:
Keep it outdoors, but also follow the other guidelines: Infections are much more likely to occur at indoor parties and other events, but we have also seen outbreaks at outdoor gatherings.
Mask yourself all: for the whole time. (Note: a mask in a Halloween costume is not enough – but please do not wear a mask for COVID-19 and do not wear a Halloween mask, as this could make it difficult to breathe). The risk of COVID-19 transmission decreases with COVID-19 from 17 percent (without mask) to 3 percent. In addition, activities such as screaming are a higher risk even if they take place outdoors – but the risk drops to a lower risk if face protection is worn.
Eating and drinking: Eating and drinking is when we lower our masks (and guards). Let families eat separately, at least 12 feet apart. Distribute them all over a large area, or have each family eat in their own driveway.
Stick to a bowl that already exists: Stick to a bowl that you are already in (e.g., your child’s classroom), because for everyone who is new, his or her bowl becomes your bowl. Small groups are best because fewer people mean less chance of exposure to COVID-19. It also makes it much easier to trace if you learn about an exposure later.
Keep your distance: Even if you are masked and outside, keep a minimum distance of 6 feet.
What do you do with sweets? Reserve some of the sweets you buy for your own children (and of course for yourself). If you get candy from others, put it aside for 24 hours, wash your hands and let the children eat the reserved candy. If there is a candy they simply must have, wipe it off, open it and put it on a napkin, let them wash their hands and enjoy.
Can children play trick or treat? If the risk is low, according to the initial questions, stick to small, sturdy pods, know exactly which houses you will be visiting, and ask them to put up individually wrapped candy at intervals so that all children don’t crowd together at a front door or put their hands in a common bowl.
Can you invite people? Again, yes. With restrictions. Take a small number of people who are already in your bowl, all of whom are masked the whole time and