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Halloween isn’t risk-free, but it can be lower risk

Akhigbemen Oseremen

Oct. 30, 2020

The hottest decorations this Halloween may turn out to be PVC pipe covered in orange duct tape or painted a garish, spooky purple. From Chicago to Washington state , people are rigging up “candy chutes” to send Twix and Milky Ways into the waiting buckets of trick-or-treaters from a safe distance during the pandemic. They range from simple slides all the way to elaborate feats of puppetry — and they’ll be called into action tomorrow.
“People have certainly gotten creative, and as bizarre as it may look, some of those things are built-in distancing to avoid close contact and direct contact,” says Colleen Nash, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Rush University Medical Center. “If people are going to trick or treat, it gives some of those creative ways to distribute candy and not have 100 hands in one single candy bowl.”
Candy chutes can cut down on some of the risks of Halloween during a pandemic. But like any event or holiday that encourages people to gather, Halloween isn’t entirely safe when COVID-19 is spreading — which it is everywhere in the country. The virus spreads easily when people are in close quarters, like crowded around a candy bucket.
But there are ways to make the celebrations safer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies various Halloween activities as low, moderate, or high risk. Carving pumpkins with people you live with, having a Halloween movie night, and setting up a candy scavenger hunt around the house or yard are all low risk, the CDC says. That’s what Shari Rubin, an internal medicine specialist at Houston Methodist Hospital, plans to do with her young kids. “Kind of like an Easter egg hunt, but with candy and candy all over the house,” she says.
Trick-or-treating with goodie bags, so that children don’t approach houses and adults in those houses don’t interact with the kids, is a moderately risky compromise, according to the CDC. Traditional trick-or-treating is high risk, the agency says. The main way the coronavirus could spread during trick-or-treating is by in-person contact. People rarely get sick after touching a surface contaminated with the virus, so the actual candy in a candy bowl should be relatively safe to grab. But someone answering the door at a house and cooing over costumes could transmit the virus to a traveling group of parents and kids, or an infected trick-or-treater could get too close to their friends when they’re making the rounds.
While, in theory, trick-or-treating could easily happen outside with plenty of space between groups, and things like candy chutes could keep the people inside houses safer, it’s harder to make sure that happens in practice, Nash says. “There’s so many different scenarios — I’m in the city of Chicago, that’s kind of my barometer, and that’s very difficult to do.”
Still, trick-or-treating is better than indoor haunted houses or large parties. The silver lining of trick-or-treating, Nash says, is that it’s naturally outside. If everyone is wearing masks, keeping their hands clean, and making an effort not to cluster, it’s not the worst possible thing to do, she says. What worries her is if people don’t trick-or-treat, they might have small gatherings indoors with people they don’t live with. Even if those are trusted family or friends, the virus could still spread. “Walking around with a whole bunch of people outside while wearing your mask is not ideal, but it’s certainly more appealing for me,” Nash says.
During the pandemic, there are very few things that are totally risk-free. Halloween isn’t one of them, and trick-or-treating isn’t either. Navigating the holiday is about minimizing risk as much as possible. If COVID-19 cases are spiking in an area, that might mean that even the most cautious door-to-door travels are out of the question. If levels are steady and low, though, staying far away from other trick-or-treaters and collecting candy out the end of a long tube may be an option .
As you make your preparations for a safe Halloween, Nash says it’s important to remember that everyone needs to wear a cloth or surgical mask underneath any costume mask. “The costume mask doesn’t count.”
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