What to know about trick or treating, costume parties, halloween parades, and other spooky season activities this year.

By Claire Gillespie
September 25, 2020
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The coronavirus is still posing a serious threat, so what does that mean for Halloween? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new guidelines on how to celebrate the holiday. Good news for fans of the spooky season––you don’t have to cancel Halloween or trick or treating altogether. You might just have to replace some of the higher risk activities with less risky choices.

To make it easier, the CDC has split traditional Halloween activities into three categories: lower risk, moderate risk, and higher risk. Unsurprisingly, the higher risk activities are those that involve close contact with other people, such as  trick or treating door to door, hosting “trunk or treat,” where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots, attending crowded indoor costume parties, and going to an indoor haunted house with lots of screaming people. 

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Going on a hayride or tractor ride with people who aren’t in your household is also considered higher risk, as is traveling to a fall festival outside your community if you live in an area with community COVID-19 spread. The CDC also warns against using alcohol or drugs during Halloween activities, as this can cloud your judgement and lead to an increase in risky behaviors. 

“Safety modifications to celebrations are nothing new, but this year, the greatest health risk for our families is person-to-person contact and large gatherings that promote the spread of infection,” Carol A. Winner, MPH, who founded the Give Space personal distancing movement, tells Health. “Pairing down creatively, with your masks on, can help to protect you and your little goblins.” 

As for moderate-risk activities, these include hosting a small group, outdoor, open-air costume parade where people are distanced more than six feet apart. Attending a costume party held outdoors where protective masks are used and people can remain more than six feet apart also made the list.

“Swapping out some higher risk activities like large costume parties or door-to-door trick or treating for apple-picking, a visit to the pumpkin farm, or a scavenger hunt in the front yard is best,” Winner says. Other lower risk activities listed by the CDC include decorating your house, organizing a virtual Halloween costume contest, hosting a Halloween movie night with people you live with, and carving or decorating pumpkins with members of your household (or outside at a safe distance) with neighbors or friends. 

With some adjustments, higher risk activities can also be made safer. The CDC says trick or treating may only pose a moderate risk if it is done one specific way—with individually wrapped goodie bags lined up at the end of a driveway or edge of a yard for families to grab and go while staying at least six feet apart. If you’re preparing goodie bags, it’s important to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after. 

And that costume party can still go ahead if guests remain more than six feet apart, but protective masks should be used. “A word of caution––a costume mask may not provide the proper protection from the coronavirus, so while your child’s Black Panther costume is cool, they’ll need to wear a protective mask with it,” Winner says. The CDC also says a costume mask shouldn’t be used in place of a cloth face mask unless it is made of two or more layers of breathable fabric, covers the mouth and nose, and doesn’t leave gaps around the face.

Without a doubt, the theme of Halloween 2020 is creativity. If you think outside the box, you can still make the most of the holiday, says Winner. For instance, children who are doing school online can still dress up and enjoy at-home treats. 

It goes without saying that if there’s a possibility you have COVID-19, or you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, you shouldn’t take part in in-person Halloween festivities or give out candy to trick or treaters. “In public health, you are first taught that you cannot protect the health of others if you are not healthy, and this certainly applies to participation in Halloween activities,” Winner says. “Kids come with adults, so parents need to assess their risk as well and choose carefully if sharing events with another family or two.” 

Lots of us love getting spooked out on Halloween. But the prospect of getting COVID-19 is probably taking the fear factor a little too far. 

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.

This story originally appeared on health.com.