As Halloween 2020 approaches, many families want to know if it’s safe to let their children go trick-or-treating in the middle of a pandemic. There is no easy answer to this question, but here is some expert advice on how to make the experience as safe as possible.
Step 1: Figure out how much health risk your household is comfortable assuming.
Do you live or regularly interact with people who are especially vulnerable to COVID -19? Then you’ll want to err on the side of caution and consider staying in on Halloween. That’s always the safest option, of course, but there are still reasons some families might want to observe the High Holiday of American Children.
“Not having a routine really impacts kids, and as we come into the holidays, trick-or-treating and participating in Halloween activities can help kids with their minds,” Phoenix pediatrician Kristin Struble said in a recent perspective article for The Washington Post.
Step 2: Try to figure out the general risk level in your community. Infection rates are trending up in most U.S. states right now, but what really matters are the specifics of your trick-or-treat route, which for most people will be their neighborhood. For example “the risk may be higher in a crowded apartment building than spread-out houses in the suburbs,” the article says.
What you really need is public-health data for your area, but this isn’t always easy or possible to find. Jon McGreevy, chief of pediatric emergency medicine at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, told The Post that some form of trick-or-treating would be acceptable so long as your community’s daily rate of positive tests does not exceed 10 percent.
Kentucky offers a regularly updated color-coded map that shows the coronavirus incidence rate in each county as well as a daily statewide positivity rate. Both can be found on kycovid19.ky.gov.
Step 3: After weighing the amount of COVID-19 risk your family can afford to take on against your kids’ mental health and the infection level in your community, the Post offers some safety tips if you do go trick-or-treating:
• Have kids wear a face mask. (Many costumes could easily incorporate one.)
• Adhere to social-distancing guidelines by standing six feet apart.
• Have a parent accompany children, regardless of age, to hold them accountable with mask-wearing and social distancing.
• Avoid congregating around doorsteps and porches.
• Use hand sanitizer after receiving candy from each house.
• Do not eat candy while trick-or-treating: Parents should make certain hands are clean before kids start touching their faces and eating candy.
• Make sure kids wash their hands as soon as they get home.
• Have kids remove their costumes and shower.
• No need to disinfect candy wrappers.
If you don’t, check out the article for suggestions from experts and parents to make Halloween a treat for your kids, even without the walkabout. They can still dress up and show off their costumes, for example. There are also tips for how to hand out candy without putting you or your neighbors at unnecessary risk.
Dr. Kevin Kavanagh, a retired Somerset physician who heads Health Watch USA, which focuses on infection control, reminded Kentuckians on the Jack Pattie Show on Lexington’s WVLK that just because an activity is outdoors doesn’t mean it’s safe. He noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared traditional trick-or-treating, in which treats are handed to children who go door-to-door, a high-risk activity.
Don’t think that wearing a Halloween mask is going to protect you from the coronavirus, Kavanagh said. “If screaming will likely occur, greater distancing is advised,” he said. “The greater the distance, the lower the risk of spreading a respiratory virus.”
The CDC also advises against wearing both a regular mask and a costume mask: “Do not wear a costume mask over a cloth mask because it can be dangerous if the costume mask makes it hard to breathe. Instead, consider using a Halloween-themed cloth mask.”
The state Department for Public Health has issued Halloween safety guidance at https://chfs.ky.gov/agencies/dph/covid19/cv19halloweenguidance.pdf.
While children’s cases are often asymptomatic or less severe than adults, it’s important to remember that they can spread it to others unknowingly.
As of Oct. 8, more than 697,633 children had tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children represented 10.7% of all cases. The report says between Sept. 24 and Oct. 8, there was a 13% increase in child cases.
As of Oct. 14, 12,950 Kentucky children between the ages of 1-19 have tested positive for the coronavirus, making up 15.8% of the total cases, according to the state health department.
The bottom line, there’s no easy answer to this question and whatever you choose will involve tradeoffs. But that’s life in a pandemic.