Halloween's going to look a little different this year due to the pandemic—here's what you can expect.

By Melissa Mills
Updated September 09, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it illness, death, and a "new normal" that includes wearing masks and social distancing—not to mention major disturbances to many families' everyday lives. Life is simply different now. So, as fall has arrived and the countdown to Halloween has begun, parents are left with one question: Is trick-or-treating canceled for 2020?

The short answer: probably not. (Phew!) The long answer: Halloween's going to look a little different this year, and it'll probably vary depending on where you live, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out in its 2020 Halloween guidelines.

Unfortunately in some places, like in Los Angeles, trick-or-treating is not recommended at all after previously being banned. It's a good idea to check in with your local health officials for updates on trick-or-treating in your area as Halloween approaches.

"I can't think of many things that haven't changed this year," says Kevin Kathrotia, M.D., COO of Millennium Neonatology who is dual-boarded in general pediatrics and neonatal-perinatal medicine by the American Board of Pediatrics. Dr. Kathrotia confirms that, yes, he plans to let his own kids trick or treat this year as long as it's permitted, but "not without a lot of modifications, and a lot of coaching from us."

So what can parents expect for Halloween 2020? For starters, "All of the guidelines suggested for day-to-day prevention of the spread of coronavirus are still in effect: social distancing, wear a mask, and proper hand-washing hygiene," says Anne Rimoin, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and expert on emerging infections and global health.

According to Dr. Rimoin, communities should be looking for ways to incorporate these safety guidelines into Halloween activities now—and parents can take initiative, too. The CDC also offers ways to help kids enjoy Halloween and fall festivities this year.

Group of children trick or treating for sweets on Halloween
Credit: Elva Etienne/Getty Images

CDC Halloween Guidelines for Safe Trick-or-Treating

The CDC doesn't advise traditional trick-or-treating this year because of the risk of spreading COVID-19. Same goes for other high risk activities like trunk-or-treat (treats handed out from car trunks in parking lots), crowded indoor costume parties and haunted houses, hayrides or tractor rides with people you don't live with, and traveling to any fall festival outside your community if you live somewhere with high rates of COVID-19. But there are still ways to enjoy Halloween festivities safely.

Wear a mask.

The CDC recommends that people wear a face mask in public settings and when social distancing is difficult to maintain so, of course, that includes Halloween.

"Consider costumes that allow a mask to be properly worn against the face to provide the best protection and allow hand hygiene to be performed regularly," says Adam Karcz, director of infection prevention for Indiana University's Riley Children’s Health. 

But keep in mind, a costume mask “is not a substitute for a cloth mask” and should not be used unless it’s made “of two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers the mouth and nose and doesn’t leave gaps around the face,” notes the CDC. And avoid wearing a cloth mask under a costume mask—that can make it hard to breathe. The CDC also advises kids opt for a Halloween-themed cloth mask.

Keep these guidelines in mind if you’re attending what are considered moderate risk activities, such as an outdoor costume party, an “open-air, one-way, walk-through haunted forest,” pumpkin patches or orchards, a “small, outdoor, open-air costume parade,” or an outdoor Halloween movie night with local family friends. In all these instances, make sure people are able to remain more than six-feet apart.

Experts also agree that the adults should be wearing masks to help reduce transmission of the coronavirus, too.

Opt for one-way trick-or-treating.

Since handing out candy isn’t the best option, consider one-way trick-or-treating. That means picking up individually wrapped goodie bags at the edge of a yard or driveway. "Sticking to a select number of houses—for example, on your side of the neighborhood—is a great idea as well, as it limits contacts," advises Dr. Kathrotia.

If you're preparing these goodie bags, make sure to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after. And try to avoid taking from or leaving a bowl filled with candy outside.

Consider lower risk activities.

There are also ways to get festive even if you prefer to limit your contact with those outside your home even more. The CDC suggests having fun decorating your home, grabbing your household members for a Halloween movie night, carving/decorating pumpkins, or going on a trick-or-treat scavenger hunt.

As for lower risk activities with neighbors or friends? Opt for a virtual Halloween costume contest or carving/decorating pumpkins together at a safe distance outdoors. 

CDC Halloween Map

To help families safely plan their Halloween, the CDC also offers a color-coded interactive map of COVID-19 risk levels throughout the country. The four risk levels from lowest to highest are green, yellow, orange, and red, and indicate what’s safe to do in those areas. 

In green zones, the CDC’s tips for trick-or-treating are a go as long as there is social distancing involved. In yellow zones, the CDC recommends only visiting neighbors following proper safety measures and says neighborhood parades are OK as long as everyone maintains safe distances. 

Families should be even more careful in orange zones. The CDC only recommends activities that maintain a good distance like having neighbors walk or drive by to deliver candy as kids stand in their front yards dressed up.

Since there are too many risks involved in red zones, the CDC recommends things like Zoom parties, scavenger hunts at home, and pics on your front porch. 

What's Canceled for Halloween Due To COVID-19?

While pumpkin picking and fall festivals are generally safer ways to celebrate Halloween since there's more airflow outside and social distancing is a little easier, "there are still no zero-risk situations, so the rules of social distancing, masks, and hand hygiene dictate what people should be doing during this difficult time," says Dr. Rimoin.

Unfortunately, that means a few things are off the table this year no matter where you live. Here's what to skip for Halloween 2020:

  • Homemade goods. All experts recommend leaving individually-packaged items on your doorstep for kids to take.
  • Bobbing for apples. We can probably cancel this germ-fest for good, right?
  • Packed parties. "Gatherings that do not promote social distancing should be avoided if they go against local guidelines," says Karcz.
  • Costumes that prevent the wearing of a mask. And kids should easily be able to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer on the go.

One other thing to keep in mind: Individuals who may be considered high-risk for COVID-19 should take extra precautions during the pandemic, and especially on Halloween. "If there is a concern for a child with an underlying health condition, I would discuss with your doctor to evaluate a safe way to enjoy trick-or-treating," recommends Karcz.

The pandemic is ever-changing, so parents need to follow local health guidelines and be ready to shift plans to keep their kids safe should cases spike in the fall. "It’s important for parents to be aware of COVID circulating in their community, follow guidelines, and make decisions based on local guidelines to ensure a safe Halloween experience," says Karcz. 

What Can We Expect Next Year?

"Sadly, viruses don't take a holiday," says Dr. Rimoin. "Until a community has reached an extremely low transmission rate or we have an effective vaccine program, lots of things won't be going 'back to normal.' Even by Halloween 2021, I think a lot of people will alter their behavior, due to experiencing this pandemic, so I expect a lot of parents will be even more focused on health and safety in the future."