How to Trick or Treat Safely in 2020

Halloween is still on—that is, provided you and your young trick-or-treaters follow some necessary pandemic precautions.

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In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, finding ways to keep our traditions can help us maintain a sense of normalcy—and that includes celebrating Halloween. In a recent Harris poll, 74 percent of young parents said that Halloween is more important than ever this year—and another national poll found that nearly half (46 percent) still planned to go trick-or-treating in their neighborhood. But is this time-honored pastime safe? “If you’ve ever been in a busy neighborhood trick-or-treating you know it is utterly chaotic,” says Roxanne Rhoads, author of Haunted Flint and Pumpkins and Party Themes: 50 DIY Designs to Bring Your Halloween Extravaganza to Life. “Kids and families are running all over the place, crisscrossing over each, crowds of kids everywhere on porches and knocking on doors, with no way to properly social distance.” But although Halloween may look different this year, if we use a little creativity, we can still take part in it.

With minor alterations, trick-or-treaters can continue the tradition while following safety protocols. “Social distancing, avoiding large groups, wearing masks, and hand sanitizing will likely be with us for a long time to prevent the spread of COVID—for those who choose to trick-or-treat, this will be the case as well,” says Jen Caudle, DO, a family physician and associate professor at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. “Given the COVID pandemic, this will be an important time to consider alternative ways to trick-or-trick that will provide a safe environment for those who choose to participate.”

In addition to new precautions, parents and trick-or-treaters should also be sure to follow the usual trick-or-treating safety tips, like not going out alone, staying on the sidewalk, and having something bright or reflective on your costume.

First, consider community caseload

Before heading out to trick-or-treat, make sure there hasn’t been a surge of recent COVID cases in your area. “When deciding whether to trick-or-treat or not, a number of factors need to be taken into account,” Dr. Caudle says. “Think about the region where you live: Is COVID transmission high or low in your area? Is it increasing or decreasing? Also, what state and local regulations about trick-or-treating are in place this fall? I would also consider factors such as the health risks of your child and others in the household, such as if the child has a weakened immune system.” Then, think about how trick-or-treating will be done, such as whether it will be possible to avoid large groups and maintain social distancing, she says. It’s all part of what a post-coronavirus life looks like.

Set up driveway tables

In order to stay socially distanced and avoid high-touch surfaces like doorbells, traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating might be out. Instead, talk with your neighbors about decorating driveway tables. “Set up the table at the end of your driveway or in the front yard so kids don’t have to come to your door,” Rhoads says. “You can bag up the treats or put them in cups. Kids can walk by and grab one and continue on to the next house. Sit six feet or so behind the table to keep tabs on kids going by.” Plus, you can go all-out with your display with these utterly creepy Halloween yard decorations.

“A driveway table is a fantastic way to allow kids to trick-or-treat, while still keeping some social distance without crowding in doorways and porches,” says Kaelin Zawilinski, senior marketing manager at party supply company Oriental Trading. “By putting candy or other handouts spaced out on a table and letting kids grab one as they walk by, you can sanitize between each child and still celebrate all the fun of Halloween.” Decorate it with a spooky theme to up the fun factor.

Go for contactless treat pick-up

Toddler girl dressed as an alligator eating a sucker on HalloweenCavan Images/Getty ImagesOther options for contactless treat delivery include using clothespins or other clips to attach baggies of treats on vines, a clothesline, bushes, or Halloween displays such as a spooky “wall of treats,” Rhoads suggests. “Kids unpin the treat bag, drop it into their bag or bucket and go on their way,” she says. Zawilinski suggests a “faux hedge” that candy can be clipped to. Or, “one of my favorite ideas this year is a candy graveyard,” she says. “With a few prop tombstones and a bag of skeleton bones, you can create a path through your front yard with candy drops along the way. It’s a fun way for kids to grab candy or handouts one at a time to ensure safe social distancing.” If you’re curious, here’s why we pass out candy on Halloween in the first place.

Use candy grabbers

If these ideas sound too elaborate, just reach for the kitchen tongs. “Make sure the person handing out candy wears a mask and uses something like tongs to pick up the candy and drop it into kid’s bags,” Rhoads says. “This means less contact with the candy, and if your tongs are long enough you create more social distance.” Trick-or-treaters can also carry Halloween-themed “grabbers” themselves to get treats instead of reaching into a bowl. “No-contact grabbers allow you to pick up candy and place it into a trick-or-treat bag without ever actually touching it with hands,” Zawilinski says. If you have reserve candy at home to nosh on the night of, you can also save the candy gathered while trick-or-treating for a few days to make sure any germs on packaging have died. Here’s how long Halloween candy is good for.

Have a trunk-or-treat

This Halloween-themed tailgate party can be well-organized in a parking lot. “Trunk-or-treats are a good option because the chaos can be controlled,” Rhoads says. “Organizers can herd everyone into lines and keep the families separated and properly socially distanced from each other. Trunk-or-treats can also have checkpoints and entrance points where they can stop anyone who isn’t wearing a mask, if that’s part of their guidelines.” The event can also have hand sanitizing stations throughout, and ask everyone to sanitize their hands before entering; treat-giving at the trunks can follow safety protocols of laying out individual treats or using tongs to distribute. A trunk-or-treat could also be a neighborhood event, with cars parked at the end of driveways, Zawilinski suggests.

Try reverse trick-or-treating

Instead of the trick-or-treaters handing out candy, this new tradition involves bringing candy to friends and neighbors—contactless, of course. The gifts can even be more elaborate. “People can get really creative with Halloween treat boxes, filling them with candy, stickers, games, movies,” Rhoads says. “It’s a way to create an entire Halloween experience in a box.” Although it’s not exactly the same experience as trick-or-treating, setting up a Secret Santa-like exchange, often called “You’ve Been Boo’ed” can be a safe and fun way to treat-swap. “Everyone picks a person or family to Boo, then they deliver a Halloween treat box anonymously on the doorstep,” Rhoads says. “Treat boxes can be full of candy, games, DVDs, craft projects, socks, T-shirts, all with a Halloween theme. Some go further and pick a specific theme relating to Halloween, like a vampire box, Frankenstein box, Hocus Pocus, candy corn, ghosts, or witches.” You may also want to include these non-candy Halloween treats kids actually love.

Opt for a drive-by

Little halloween boy smiling out of the carImgorthand/Getty Images

Taking a cue from quarantine birthday drive-bys, the #yeetthetreats hashtag suggests riders in cars throw treats to kids waiting on their lawns as a type of reverse trick-or-treat. But Rhoads isn’t a huge fan. “I’ve never cared much for parades where they throw candy at the kids and the kids scramble to pick it up off the ground—some of the drive-by options are essentially the same thing,” she says. Car riders could also drop treats in waiting buckets on the side of the road; or have car riders’ own buckets filled as they stop at each neighbor’s house. But the drawbacks could be a long line of waiting cars, Rhoads points out. Also, particularly if kids are giving out the treats to those in cars, the moving vehicles might make for more potential safety issues.

Wear a mask

Luckily, masks were always a part of the Halloween costume tradition. And this year, it’s even more important that we don them while trick-or-treating. “Character and critter masks are fun—I’ve seen several styles where the mask looks like the nose and mouth of an animal, specific cartoon character, or movie character, like the Sanderson sisters from Hocus Pocus,” Rhoads says. “If your kid dresses up as a bunny, mouse, cat, dog, or whatever animal, find a mask that has the nose and mouth to match—it’s a great way to have fun, get creative and add an entirely new element to costume creation.” Try one of these 17 best face masks for Halloween.

What about gloves?

Dr. Caudle doesn’t have specific advice about whether your costume should or shouldn’t include gloves. But whether trick-or-treaters wear them or not, they should remember to not touch their face, which is how COVID germs on our hands (or gloves) get into our bodies. After trick-or-treating, clean your hands, whether you wore gloves or not. “For hand hygiene, washing hands with soap and water is best,” Dr. Caudle says. “If soap and water is not available, using an alcohol-based hand-sanitizer with 60 percent alcohol is important.” And it’s probably best not to eat your treats on the go: Wait until you get home and can properly wash your hands before digging in.

“Trick-or-treat” at home

Girl Dressed In Trick Or Treating Fairy Costume On Lawnmonkeybusinessimages/Getty Images

If you don’t feel it’s safe to go trick-or-treating around the neighborhood this year, your kids can always do it in your own backyard or even around the house (turn off the lights and give them flashlights for spooky ambiance). “Scavenger hunts are a good option for families who don’t want to trick-or-treat but want to make sure kids still get Halloween candy,” Rhoads says. “Create a candy hunt in your yard where kids have to find treats—think of it like an Easter egg hunt but for Halloween candy.” For older kids, she suggests making it elaborate with clues for locating the hidden treats. “You could even use Easter eggs: Just add Halloween stickers or small balloon lights to make them eerie,” Rhoads says. For more new ideas, check out these Halloween customs and traditions around the world.

Sources:

  • PR Newswire: “New Survey Data: Halloween is Happening And Americans Are Ready To Celebrate Creatively And Safely Throughout October”
  • Jen Caudle, DO, a family physician and associate professor at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey

Tina Donvito
Tina Donvito is a regular contributor to RD.com’s Culture and Travel sections. She also writes about health and wellness, parenting, and pregnancy. Previously editor-in-chief of Twist magazine, Donvito has also written for Parade Magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Parents Magazine online, among others. Here work was selected by author Elizabeth Gilbert to be included in the anthology Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It: Life Journeys Inspired by the Bestselling Memoir. She earned a BA in English and History from Rutgers University.