The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is playing tricks on families’ plans to celebrate Halloween.
Kristina Wieghmink, the public information officer for the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, urges those heading out in search of treats Oct. 31 to take several precautions.
“We’re looking at the state and CDC guidelines on that, and the main thing is making sure you avoid direct contact with trick-or-treaters and people giving out treats,” she said.
The concern lies both with those handing out treats and those receiving the goodies.
“Wash your hands before handing out treats,” Wieghmink said. “And, of course, we want to continue to urge people to wear masks – and not just a Halloween mask, but a two-ply cloth face covering, worn properly over the nose and under the chin.”
Nearly all community-sponsored Halloween events have been canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, although some private groups are hosting trick-or-treating gatherings.
Local leaders say they don’t have the ability to “cancel Halloween” entirely, so it’s up to each household to decide whether or not to hand out candy, and up to each family to decide whether or not to go out in search of goodies.
“It’s a case-by-case basis, depending on how things are set up,” Wieghmink said when it comes to the safety of trick-or-treating. “It depends on your neighborhood and what they’re doing. We don’t want to tell people not to do it – we just want to make sure they’re doing it safely.”
Wieghmink said a concern would be children handling treats from many different hands, then immediately putting their hands to their faces as they remove their mask and eat a piece of candy.
“It’s definitely a concern when you have more hands touching things – there’s a greater likelihood of contamination,” she said. “What we do know about the virus so far is that it doesn’t easily transfer from surfaces. Still, don’t touch your face, and parents should wipe off the outside of packages. Still, the main transmission is by droplets, and that’s what we’re concerned about.”
The CDC lists many traditional Halloween activities as “high risk” for spreading the coronavirus.
Here’s a list of activities, sorted by risk level:
Carving or decorating pumpkins with members of your household and displaying them.
Carving or decorating pumpkins outside, at a safe distance, with neighbors or friends.
Decorating your house, apartment or living space.
A scavenger hunt where children are given lists of Halloween-themed things to look for while they walk outdoors from house to house admiring Halloween decorations at a distance.
A virtual Halloween costume contest.
A Halloween movie night with people you live with.
A scavenger hunt-style trick-or-treat search with your household members in or around your home rather than going house to house.
Participating in one-way trick-or-treating where individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up for families to grab and go while continuing to social distance (such as at the end of a driveway or at the edge of a yard). If you are preparing goodie bags, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing the bags.
Having a small group, outdoor, open-air costume parade where people are distanced more than 6 feet apart.
Attending a costume party held outdoors where protective masks are used and people can remain more than 6 feet apart. A costume mask (such as for Halloween) is not a substitute for a cloth mask. A costume mask should not be used unless it is made of two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers the mouth and nose and doesn’t leave gaps around the face. Do not wear a costume mask over a protective cloth mask because it can be dangerous if the costume mask makes it hard to breathe. Instead, consider using a Halloween-themed cloth mask.
Going to an open-air, one-way, walk-through haunted forest where appropriate mask use is enforced and people can remain more than 6 feet apart. If screaming will likely occur, greater distancing is advised. The greater the distance, the lower the risk of spreading a respiratory virus.
Visiting pumpkin patches or orchards where people use hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins or picking apples, wearing masks is encouraged or enforced, and people are able to maintain social distancing.
Having an outdoor Halloween movie night with local family friends with people spaced at least 6 feet apart.
The CDC suggests avoiding these higher-risk activities to help prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19:
Participating in traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go door to door.
Having a trunk-or-treat event where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots.
Attending crowded costume parties held indoors.
Going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming.
Going on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household.
Using alcohol or drugs, which can cloud judgment and increase risky behaviors.
Traveling to a rural fall festival that is not in your community if you live in an area with community spread of COVID-19.