Infectious Disease Experts Offer Tips For Safe Halloween

Published October 27, 2020

story based on news release by ellen goldbaum

Celebrating Halloween during the pandemic needs to be different this year, but it’s still possible to have fun while staying safe, according to pediatrics infectious diseases specialists at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“Halloween activities that normally bring many people in close proximity and that promote sharing of candies and food from people potentially infected would increase coronavirus transmission and may result in significantly increasing the number of COVID-19 cases. ”
Associate professor of pediatrics and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases

Mark D. Hicar, MD, PhD

The Jacobs School experts strongly agree with the recommendations recently posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and those from the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH).

Accordingly, the best way to celebrate and enjoy Halloween this year is to have all celebrations at home and with your own family. Any activities outside your home or with people that are not part of your household will have risk of coronavirus transmission and should be avoided.

“There will be a lot of pressure to partake in activities, and some children may want to ‘revolt’ if not able to partake,” says Mark D. Hicar, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases.

He strongly suggests following the options the NYSDOH and CDC provide on their websites as safer alternatives.

Traditional Celebration Could Increase COVID-19 Cases

Oscar G. Gomez, MD, PhD

The experts note that the most important advice is that anyone who has COVID-19 or may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 should completely refrain from participating in in-person Halloween activities.

“Halloween activities that normally bring many people in close proximity and that promote sharing of candies and food from people potentially infected would increase coronavirus transmission and may result in significantly increasing the number of COVID-19 cases,” says Oscar G. Gomez, MD, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases.

Gomez and Hicar are both physicians with UBMD Pediatrics.

Potential Risks in Most Cases Just Too High

Anyone who lives with, or comes into contact on a regular basis with someone who is high-risk or immunocompromised should also refrain from customary in-person Halloween activities.

“If you do have high-risk persons whom you visit, I would plan on avoiding visitation for 14 days after participating in any Halloween activities that involve persons outside your household to make sure no symptoms develop,” Hicar says.

Some communities may be taking steps to prohibit or modify traditional trick-or-treating and keeping up to date on local ordinances and public health advice is recommended.

“Even if allowed, I think many houses won’t partake in trick-or-treating, as this is naturally a non-distancing activity,” Hicar says, adding that adults also may not want to expose themselves to potentially contracting COVID-19.

The potential risks posed by the Halloween tradition of knocking on doors for candy in most cases are just too high, and Hicar and Gomez recommend against it.

They also recommend against Halloween parties, haunted houses and any other activity that brings people into close proximity.

Bring Activities Into the Home or Online

They note that the NYSDOH and CDC websites offer safer ways to celebrate, including:

  • wearing costumes at home
  • participating in home-based activities like carving pumpkins and decorating the house
  • holding an online Halloween costume contest
  • holding scavenger hunts for Halloween-themed items inside and outside the house
  • watching a Halloween movie
  • holding an online costume contest for pets

If the decision is made to venture into the neighborhood, there are some safer ways to do so:

  • car parades to see your neighbors’ decorations without close contact with them
  • wear a proper face covering at all times (not a costume mask) and do not wear costume masks over medical face coverings, as this can be dangerous

Candy Safety Recommendations

There are options for having a socially distanced trick-or-treat experience (considered moderate risk). As described on the CDC website, this is where neighbors offer goodie bags outside to children at the edge of their driveway or front yard.

Candy handler masking and good hand hygiene are required. Candies should be individually wrapped in sealed wrappers or baggies, and these should be placed near the route of the trick-or-treaters, with the goal of avoiding direct contact between candy handler and children.

Gomez and Hicar say people should be aware that those handling goodie bags could have COVID-19 and if they do, could contaminate bags and candies.

“It is not perfectly clear how long any coronavirus would live on the wrappers, nor how infectious this type of spread would be,” Hicar says. “Data suggests leaving wrapped candy untouched for up to a week would be a safe strategy.”

“Supplementing with store-bought candy during the quarantine period — I suggest buying some of their favorites — may feed the sweet tooth and prevent mass revolt in the meantime,” he adds.

Gomez confirms: “Households providing candies to their own children is the safest way to handle candy craving and lower the risk of coronavirus transmission.”

“Having online or indoor Halloween activities limited to family members is the best way to keep the tradition without increasing transmission, disease and other bad outcomes,” he adds.