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
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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, with fall approaching and the countdown to Halloween on, 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.

Unfortunately in some places, like in Los Angeles, trick-or-treating has already been 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.

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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. Here are some expert-approved ways to help kids enjoy trick-or-treating and fall festivities this year.

How To Safely Trick or Treat in 2020

Wear a mask.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend 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. Parents might even want to opt for character face masks their kids like and plan costumes around them.

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

Leave candy on your doorstep.

"Handing out candy may be on a temporary hiatus this year," says Dr. Kathrotia. "One thing you can do is place a table in front of your door and give out individual baggies containing a few [pieces] of candy." Similar to the way restaurants have adapted with takeout, parents can plan to have candy ready for kids to pick up quickly so contact with other people is kept to a minimum. Just try to avoid a bowl filled with candy so kids can avoid contact with others.

Limit the number of houses you visit.

"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," says Dr. Kathrotia.

And while trunk-or-treating—where adults decorate their cars and kids trick or treat from car to car—might seem like a great way to reduce the number of people you see on Halloween, Dr. Kathrotia calls it "very difficult in this era of social distancing and limiting contacts."

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. 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." 

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