Traditional trick-or-treating is a health risk during the pandemic, but many families are still planning to do it, according to new online polls. Here's what parents need to know.

By Anna Halkidis
October 28, 2020
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As expected, Halloween is looking a lot different this year due to the pandemic. Many Halloween events have been canceled across the country and cities are taking a cue from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and discouraging door-to-door trick-or-treating because of the risk of spreading COVID-19.

But new surveys find many families are still planning to go trick-or-treating this year. Even though there's a decrease from 2019 of planned trick-or-treaters, there are still health concerns to consider, especially as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the majority of states. Thirty-six states are also reporting concerning rises in hospitalized patients.

A survey from NORC at the University of Chicago found 12 percent of U.S. households plan to go trick-or-treating this year, a drop from 24 percent in 2019. In the meantime, the poll of 1,070 Americans conducted in October 2020, also found 25 percent of families plan to give out candy—38 percent did last year.

Another online survey of 1,500 Americans in September 2020 found a significantly higher percentage of families are planning to trick-or-treat. Conducted by Real Estate Witch, the poll revealed 60 percent of parents are keeping up with tradition. Of those, 33 percent are aiming for “additional safety precautions” while trick-or-treating, including practicing social distancing, wearing a mask, and using hand sanitizer frequently. But 27 percent say they are keeping their plans “the same as normal.”

As for those handing out the candy, 60 percent say they will pass out candy without any changes for safety, while 40 percent say they will take some precautions.

Credit: Getty Images

The Risks of Trick-or-Treating in 2020

No matter how you slice it, going door-to-door this Halloween is just not the safest option, especially in communities with high cases of COVID-19. The CDC listed one-way trick-or-treating (or when goodie bags are left outside for kids to grab and go while socially distanced) as posing a moderate risk, and traditional trick-or-treating is considered a higher risk activity. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released similar guidelines and said "families should be careful to avoid groups or clustering at doorsteps or at any other place."

Even for those who say they are being careful when trick-or-treating or handing out candy, many of the precautions they are taking aren’t what the CDC deems safe in its Halloween guidelines.

“Of those taking precautions, 44 percent say they will hand out candy directly to the child instead of letting children grab the candy from a bowl, which still puts the participants at risk, as that doesn't involve social distancing,” says Kristen Herhold, the PR Editor at Clever Real Estate, the sister site of the Real Estate Witch. (And 42 percent say they will leave a bowl out for kids to grab candy.) “Instead, the CDC recommends that those handing out candy this year should lay out the candy in grab bags, where children can grab the candy in a socially distant manner.” It's important to note the CDC says maintaining a distance of at least six feet from anyone outside your home and wearing a mask is critical in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Both the CDC and AAP are encouraging families to stick to lower risk activities this Halloween, such as carving or decorating pumpkins and having a movie night with people you live with. For some examples of safe, virtual activities, check out our list here.

Helping Kids Through Halloween Disappointment

Of course, parents may be worried their kids are missing out or will have a hard time accepting that trick-or-treating is canceled this year. In fact, the NORC poll found more than 2 in 5 parents say their kids are “disappointed or angry” over their Halloween plans changing this year. We know, it's a bummer to see your kids upset! But there are ways to help your kids make the most of Halloween this year.

“Explain that this situation is hard on all children and that it’s OK to be sad,” says Lea Lis, M.D., double board-certified adult and child psychiatrist and author of No Shame: Real Talk With Your Kids About Sex, Self-Confidence and Healthy Relationships. "Explain that loss is a part of life—but how you deal with loss is what make us all special."

Don’t forget, kids are resilient, and experts say there’s nothing wrong with skipping out on traditional Halloween festivities in 2020 and getting innovative. “Creative ways to celebrate more safely during the pandemic are in order for Halloween. Parents need to stress that safety is paramount,” says Victor M. Fornari, M.D., M.S., chief of division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, part of Northwell Health. “Encourage virtual ways of celebrating.”

Dr. Lis also suggests asking your kids how they want to celebrate. Carving pumpkins? Family costume contest? Spooky-themed movie night with candy to boot? Either way, she says, focus on “things that can be done rather than focusing on what cannot be done.”

Anna Halkidis is the features editor at Parents.com. Keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram.

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