From A Doctor And A Public Health Expert: Don't Cancel Halloween

by Dr. Hansa Bhargava
Originally Published: 
Two 'Medical Moms' Weigh In On Why Halloween Doesn't Have To Be Canceled This Year
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When it comes to taking all of the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we are two moms who pride ourselves on being conservative and careful. So when we started hearing rumblings from legislators, schools and parents about how obviously Halloween was going to be canceled, you might expect that we would agree. Not so.

It is important, especially when we talk to our kids, that as parents and families we help build their ability to adapt to change while supporting their emotional wellbeing. Kids need to know we can still have a very happy, albeit modified, Halloween.

Kids and families are under a lot of stress right now with anxiety and depression rates rising significantly. Although there are a number of factors leading to this, including COVID-19, job losses, and coping and addressing online school, part of it also is social isolation and the loss of traditional community events like graduations, church gatherings, and even birthday parties that can buffer stress. For this reason, if we can preserve Halloween and do it safely, it would be a win — for kids, and for families too. It is something to look forward to and something to enjoy, in a world that feels full of bad news.

Based on the science of how the disease spreads and our experience as moms who have done trick-or-treating for 10+ years in urban and suburban neighborhoods — along with the fact that much of Halloween takes place outside — we believe it may be possible to have enjoyable and safe celebrations. We can both honor what has become an epic American tradition for our kids and embrace our new reality of life amidst a pandemic.

Let’s quickly review the facts about how the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, spreads and how it does not. Experts believe the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person. There are several ways this can happen:

Droplets or aerosols. When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, droplets or tiny particles called aerosols carry the virus into the air from their nose or mouth. Anyone who is within six feet of that person can breathe it into their lungs.

Airborne transmission. Research shows that the virus can live in the air for up to three hours. It can get into your lungs if someone who has it breathes out and you breathe that air in. Experts are divided on how often the virus spreads through the airborne route and how much it contributes to the pandemic.

Surface transmission. Another way to catch the new coronavirus is when you touch surfaces that someone who has the virus has coughed or sneezed on. You may touch a countertop or doorknob that’s contaminated and then touch your nose, mouth, or eyes. However studies showing whether virus particles or “fingerprints” can actually transmit to a person causing COVID infection is sparse.

Fecal-oral. Studies also suggest that virus particles can be found in infected people’s poop. But experts aren’t sure whether the infection can spread through contact with an infected person’s stool. If that person uses the bathroom and doesn’t wash their hands, they could infect things and people that they touch.

The virus most often spreads through people who have symptoms. But it is possible to pass it on without showing any signs. Some people who don’t know they’ve been infected can give it to others; this is called asymptomatic spread. You can also pass it on before you notice any signs of infection, called presymptomatic spread.

Given this refresher on the transmission facts, there could be some minor modifications to our Halloween festivities so that most families can keep our mini ghosts and ghouls in a safe holiday spirit.


Let’s get right to the heart of what every parent wants to know: Can the littles venture out and collect treats from neighbors? While nothing during COVID is without risk, it is possible that a limited number of neighbors who want to participate in Halloween can set up a system that reduces risk.

For the treat givers … some options for a socially distanced treat sharing may require more rigor on the parts of neighbors or those giving out the candy. A few neighbors, perhaps 3 or 4 families depending on the local infectivity rate, could give out candy this way:

Buy pre-packaged bags of candy, stickers or toys. It’s always best to avoid homemade treats and this year is no exception. If you are the neighbor who hands out toothbrushes, make sure they are individually wrapped from the store. (The kids will groan but we public health moms still love you!)

Wash and sanitize your hands and wear a mask when preparing the treats to put out.

Set out a treats tray (clean baking sheet or decorative platter) instead of a bowl to minimize little hands reaching in and touching multiple items at once.

Set out fewer pieces at a time and plan to refresh the stock often.


Have a bottle of hand sanitizer beside the treats if possible.

For the treat takers … some options for socially-distanced treat taking follows many of the safety protocols our kids are already following if they are back at school or in other public settings.

First, as masks are part of our new “normal,” let’s use that to our creative advantage this year. We are fully expecting that the artistic parents out there will be making some fierce face masks and that the entrepreneurs will be quickly designing and selling them for those of us who are less crafty.

Next, you guessed it, keep your costumed caravan six feet apart! We know that half the fun for many kids is running around the neighborhood in a tightly packed, sugar-fueled gaggle, but that’s one tradition that can’t happen this year if we are to keep COVID at bay. Make sure there are only 3-4 homes involved and kids/family groups keep their distance while walking from home to home and that they take distance turns in picking up the treats left out for them.

Alternatively, have just one family over and do a distance Halloween get together at your place — go crazy on the decorations, carve pumpkins and wear fun masks. Tell the kids you are celebrating Halloween in a different way this year!

As is the case with everything these days, we want parents to trust their instincts and follow the science when making decisions about what activities they feel safe engaging their families in. There will be different situations such as high community infectivity rates, as well as different family living situations that could contribute to your decision. If grandma or a person who is undergoing cancer treatment is with you, for example, you may want to play it extra safe and just do Halloween festivities at home.

Innovating Halloween with fresh ideas.

One thing we can all do is to really have fun with decorating. While many may groan at the increasing commercialization of holidays and decorations being sold earlier and en masse, this is not the year to be stingy with the pumpkins and fake spider webs. Let your kids design a miniature graveyard or scary witch scene and don’t worry about what the neighbors will think if the decorations are askew.

Some have mentioned the idea of a socially-distanced Halloween parade in their neighborhoods in lieu of door-to-door. This gives kids the chance to dress up, but not necessarily go to many doors. Another idea, for parents who want to stay at home, is to have a trick or treating at home, with different rooms having different decorations, and the kids can knock on bedroom doors. There are many ways to do Halloween, and make sure that children enjoy this holiday.

In a quick non-official Twitter survey of doctors with kids, about 55% of “medparents” said that Halloween could be done in a safe manner for many families and communities, if we followed public health rules of masks, social distancing, and hand washing. But if you don’t want to head out this Halloween, that’s totally cool too — kick back and enjoy some of the out-of-the-box ideas instead.

Many of us want to make Halloween happen, even if it’s modified! Ultimately, parents have to decide what is best for the family, and some may not feel comfortable doing anything given their local infection rates. However you do your version of a safe Halloween, be sure to take the time to explain to your kids what they can expect — but most importantly, to enjoy the time together as a family. Halloween is a fun holiday, no matter how you celebrate it!

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