Every Midwesterner has a memory of a Halloween that wasn’t. An early snow storm, subzero wind chill or a driving rain can occasionally upend trick-or-treating in this part of the country.
Although we had hopes during Halloween 2020 that Halloween 2021 would be different, the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing. Given the unseasonal cases of RSV this year, we're not sure how winter flu season is going to be this year, so the public is still being asked to act responsibly to prevent further spread of respiratory viral infections. The good news is you can plan ahead for a safer Halloween season and still treat the kids to fun.
The trick is to remember the big four in all activities: wear a mask, social distance six feet from non-household members, wash/sanitize hands often, and vaccinate. COVID-19 vaccines are currently available to kids over the age of 12, and vaccination is one of the best things you can do to help prevent infection in your children or household. If you choose to trick or treat, follow these Centers for Disease Control guidelines:
- Make the cloth mask part of your child’s costume.
- Do not substitute a costume mask for a cloth mask.
- Do not wear a costume mask over a cloth mask as it can be hard to breathe.
- Do not put a mask on children under age 2 or anyone who has trouble breathing.
Those handing out treats should make these changes:
- Wash hands before handling treats and always wear a mask.
- Give treats outdoors and avoid direct contact with trick-or-treaters.
- Set up a station with individually-bagged treats for kids to take.
If you opt to skip trick-or-treating, try adding some new activities to your spooky season. Some safe options include:
- Hold a Halloween scavenger hunt. Hide treats in and around your house and hold a hunt for household members.
- Host a Halloween movie night. Plan an outdoor movie night with friends masked and safely distanced or an indoor movie night with household members.
- Decorate outside your house. Walk or drive around the neighborhood to admire decorations from a distance.
- Hold an outdoor costume parade/contest and let the kids show off their costumes.
- Organize a pumpkin carving party. Do this inside with household members or outside with masks and socially-distanced friends.
- Visit an orchard or corn maze. Just remember to wear masks, keep six feet of distance from others and sanitize hands often.
"My 14 year-old didn't go trick-or-treating last year, and now he thinks he's too old for it," said David Quimby, MD, infectious diseases physician at CHI Health. He added, "Like last year, we'll probably have a fire pit in our driveway for s'mores or watch a scary movie, and have treats available outside for those who are going around the neighborhood."
Dr. Quimby advises that caution be taken while visiting haunted houses or other indoor gatherings. The close quarters and people screaming at frights and ghouls are not ideal for reducing the spread of this virus. If you are going to attend such activities, he recommends you be vaccinated and wear a mask in the indoor areas.
"Almost everybody is really tired with pandemic restrictions," Dr. Quimby admits, "but if we all do our part, we can bring an end to this pandemic. It was hopeful that with the availability of vaccines, things would improve a lot. They have to some extent, but given the amount of folk nonvaccinated and people giving up on masks and distancing, there is still far too much community-level infection. If we all pursue vaccination and appropriate distancing along with masks when needed, we can have control over this pandemic before Thanksgiving and Christmas."
We are all tired of COVID-19-related restrictions. But the sacrifices made now will help to continue to protect the health of the community and the ability of the health systems to care for everyone. Let's teach our kids that we can enjoy traditions safely, responsibly, and with kindness for others.