Halloween will look very different this year across most of the country.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is discouraging traditional trick or treating amid the coronavirus pandemic. The CDC says trick or treating is considered high risk because of close contact and proximity to others.
Many kids are understandably bummed out. Even though most Halloween activities are done outside, the risk of COVID-19 transmission is still present, says Thomas Tsai, an epidemiologist at Harvard University.
Expert warnings and CDC guidelines have led to some creative solutions — like one high-tech candy zipline rigged up by Matt Thompson of Detroit.
But if you’re not as handy as Thompson, Tsai shares a few tips for celebrating cheerfully but safely.
Can Halloween candy from trick or treating be a vector for coronavirus transmission?
“On average, the risk of COVID-19 transmission from surfaces is lower than from airborne transmission. But the risk isn't zero. And I think it's important to think about Halloween and any other social interaction not in absolutes of either zero risk or 100% risk. It's all really about the probability of being infected with COVID-19. So the risk isn't zero. Again, with children, with runny noses, it's very easy to potentially contaminate candy, especially when you have, potentially groups of children reaching into the same candy bowl. So we really have to be thoughtful and take precautions around that as well.”
Could people make a case-by-case or neighborhood-by-neighborhood decision on whether to allow trick or treating?
“Yes, I think it's a balance of both the risk of the activity versus the risk level of the community-level transmission of COVID-19 in their communities. And the Harvard School of Public Health and the Harvard Global Health Institute, we have a risk level dashboard that shows you in terms of your own county, whether the risk of cases is green, yellow, orange or red based on a number of actively infected individuals on a given day in that county. So in a county that is red, any of the in-person activity is a high risk and alternatives may be a virtual trick or treat or even a drive by or almost like a parade, which the CDC all consider as low-risk activities. Green areas, then, you know, there may be the opportunity for some closer interactions. But again, the risk isn't zero.”
What safe activities can parents do with their children this Halloween season?
“I have a 2-year-old and I think like every other parent in a pandemic, we're all just trying to figure it out as we go along and incorporate the best advice that's out there. For our 2-year-old, what we've done is the low-risk activities that the CDC recommends so pumpkin carving and doing it on Zoom or FaceTime so there's still a group feel to it, and on our street, we typically have a very large trick or treat and people have decorations out there and our neighbors have decided that that's not a good idea. So we'll sort of, you know, do a physically distant sort of parade and people will kind of stand outside their doors and wave to each other. So there's still that community feel. The children will be in their costumes. There's still that level of social engagement and interaction but whilst minimizing the risk.”
This segment aired on October 12, 2020.