With COVID-19 on the rise, some parents nix trick-or-treating: 'It doesn't seem worth the risk'

Nara Schoenberg, Chicago Tribune
·4 min read

CHICAGO — Halloween is already happening at Angie Grover’s house. The pumpkins are carved. The porch is decorated. The costumes are getting multiple trial runs, with Grover’s younger son, age 7, even taking a scooter ride in full T. rex mode.

But when the big day comes, one thing will be missing: trick-or-treating.

“We’re just not prepared to expose our family to the uncertainty of COVID,” said Grover, 50, of River Forest, Ill.

In the lead-up to a beloved children’s holiday, a sizable number of Americans are quietly opting out of trick-or-treating, handing out candy or both, due to COVID-19. Just 12% of U.S. households will trick-or-treat this year, down from 24% last year, according to a recent survey from NORC at the University of Chicago. The survey found that 25% of families plan to give out candy, down from 38% in 2019.

In Naperville, Ill., alone, more than 350 “No Trick-or-Treaters” signs have been picked up by residents, according to city spokeswoman Linda LaCloche.

The reasons for opting out range from an illness in the family to a more general concern about the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Illinois, where the seven-day statewide positivity rate for those tested is 6.4%. In interviews and Facebook posts, those who are not participating expressed sadness at missing out, but also confidence in their decisions.

“Health and safety has to come first,” said Si 1/4 u00e2n Stevens, of Forest Park, the mother of 5-year-old twins.

As the chief operating officer at a nonprofit senior living community, Stevens has been very careful about COVID-19, refraining from eating out or socializing in other people’s homes.

Stevens won’t be giving out candy because she doesn’t live in a house where she can do that while maintaining social distancing. As for trick-or-treating, she plans to take her kids on a costumed Halloween walk in the neighborhood. If she sees houses where candy collection can be done very safely, she may allow a little bit of trick-or-treating.

She’s also planning at-home activities such as a candy hunt and a movie, most likely “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

Parents making decisions about trick-or-treating contend with an array of mixed signals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating as a higher risk activity and says that even socially distanced trick-or-treating (in which kids pick up prepared bundles of candy on a table or driveway) carries moderate risk.

The Mayo Clinic discourages door-to-door trick-or-treating this year, as does the village of Deerfield. And cities such as Los Angeles and Gary, Indiana, have banned or canceled it.

But Chicago and many of its suburbs are allowing the practice and encouraging those who do go out to wear masks, use hand sanitizer and practice social distancing. On Facebook, some of the loudest voices are those promoting safer trick-or-treating practices.

Still, it’s not hard to find people like Susan Hoffman, of Naperville, who says her kids aren’t going, and that she knows other parents who are nixing trick-or-treating.

“They’re saying it doesn’t seem like it’s worth the risk,” said Hoffman, 49.

For Hoffman, trick-or-treating is not an option. She is at high risk for COVID-19 complications due to leukemia, so her family has basically been on lockdown since March. She and her husband have decided that handing out candy is too risky, and trick-or-treating is out of the question.

“It is a bummer,” said Hoffman, who was a librarian before she got sick. “It’s a Saturday, and the weather looks like it might be OK. It would have been awesome.”

Her children, 13-year-old Lily and 9-year-olds Maggie and Patrick, have been through worse, she said. When Hoffman had her bone marrow transplant two years ago, she had to live away from the children in a hotel for 90 days.

The kids have taken this year’s ban on trick-or-treating in stride, she said, and she’s planning a full indoor celebration with costumes, movies, games and candy.

Grover said her family has worked hard to avoid COVID-19. The kids do remote learning, and no one eats in restaurants. Halloween won’t be an exception.

She hasn’t decided whether she will give out candy yet; she’s still mulling over the “little baggies on the lawn” option. But trick-or-treating is out.

Instead, she’s going to decorate dozens of plastic Easter eggs with glow-in-the-dark tape, fill them with candy and hide them around the yard.

“Everybody’s like, ‘Get back to normal,’ and I don’t think we should be getting back to normal,” Grover said.

“I think we should be teaching our children how to adapt: You can have a costume. We’ll figure out a way for you to hunt down some candy. You can still have the things you love about Halloween — you just can’t have the interaction part.”


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