Rates of COVID-19 transmission in your community and your kids' eagerness to trick-or-treat are only two factors to consider when deciding what level of Halloween risk you can live with.
Consider whether your community tends to follow public health measures, and whether your kids are good rule-followers.
There are some creative alternatives, like scavenger hunts with another family you trust, that can be safer than trick-or-treating and just as fun.
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My kids (4, 6, and 9) have pretty much been counting down to Halloween since November 1, 2019. They've had their costumes planned for months and have been reminiscing about the homes with the best candy.
My wife and I originally thought we'd take them on a sort of modified trick-or-treating tour — visiting only homes where we could keep a safe distance from others, for example — but now that COVID cases are rising in our state and some counties have even banned trick-or-treating altogether, we're second-guessing our not-very-fleshed-out plan.
Should we sorely disappoint our kids and cancel trick-or-treating? If so, we need a plan B — STAT!
— Anthony, Austin
I can relate — to your kids. Growing up, I remember getting upset that daylight savings time meant trick-or-treating would begin an hour later than it would have had we not set the clocks back the night prior. (My relationship to that extra hour has changed.)
Despite how much joy trick-or-treating brought me, and has brought your kids, you're smart to stay on top of transmission rates in your community and to consider adjusting plans accordingly.
The good news is that if you choose to pursue an alternative way to celebrate (there are countless!), the most important aspects of Halloween for kids are decidedly not canceled.
"With children it's important to flip our perspective, focus on what's positive and what can we do, not what we can't," Dr. Rashmi Jain, an online pediatrician and founder of BabiesMD.com, told me. "We can still get dressed up and we can still get candy. "
Be honest with yourself about your neighbors', and kids', ability to follow rules
Outside of transmission rates in your neighborhood — which should be a top consideration — assess other factors in your family and community that affect the riskiness of trick-or-treating.
Jain, for example, isn't taking her 6- and 9-year-old nephews traditionally trick-or-treating, mostly because the boys and their parents live with their grandparents, who are in a high-risk group.
And while research suggests kids under 10 don't contract or spread the virus as easily as older kids and adults, it's still possible. In some cases, kids can get quite sick. Plus, it's not just little goblins doing the trick-or-treating. The parents taking them need to stay especially diligent about wearing masks and keeping distance. "Adult transmission is what we worry about," Jain said.
Take the pulse of your neighborhood too. Communities where trick-or-treating families agree — say through a text chain, newsletter, or Facebook group — to leave individually wrapped treats at the end of the driveway or even drop them through a PVC pipe into kids' bags are decidedly less risky than areas where some or all residents scoff at public health measures and plan to trick-or-treat traditionally, which the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies as a high-risk activity.
Be honest with yourself about your kids' ability to follow guidelines as well. Will they be able to save all of their candy until they get home and it's wiped down, as Jain recommends? Will they dutifully pass by communal tubs of candy that lots of sticky hands — and germs — have visited? Can they refrain from running up to a crowded house where the owner is dishing out King-sized Snickers?
"Any time you get me in a situation where I'm excited, I forget the rules," Jain said. Same.
Parents have conjured creative, and just as fun, alternatives
Just writing out all that goes into having a still moderately-risky day trick-or-treating was tiring enough for some super-creative alternatives I've heard about sound a whole lot more appealing.
Jain's nephews' family, for instance, is decorating different rooms of their house and having a sort of Easter egg hunt for candy.
One of my friends is hosting a Halloween party at her home, inviting just one other family with whom both the parents and kids have already safely "bubbled."
Others are doing a hybrid of those ideas, having their kids dress up and hunt for candy in their yards. For one mom with a daughter old enough to read, she'll get clues to help find the candy. Others told me they're watching scary movies in costume or setting up backyard pinatas.
Halloween isn't limited to trick-or-treating either. The CDC considers costume parades, haunted forest visits, pumpkin patches, and outdoor movies moderate-risk activities, so long as there are a limited number of people who are well-spaced, masked, and not tempted to scream.
(The organization also recommends using a Halloween-themed cloth mask rather than a plastic costume mask; not both at the same time, which can be dangerous if it inhibits inhibits breathing.)
"Prioritize which activities would be the least risky: outdoors vs. indoors, a restaurant with multiple diners vs. solo dinner with a friend, hair cut by appointment vs. walk in with multiple patrons," she said. "Do keep in mind it can take just one unsafe encounter to contract COVID-19."
Senior health reporter Anna Medaris Miller is here to help you make decisions about living life in the current "normal," which is anything but. Drawing on her in-depth reporting on the pandemic; connections with medical, mental health, and public health experts; and own life and common sense, she'll help you get through coronavirus quandaries big and small. Submit your questions for Anna anonymously here.
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