It had been a tough year for children.
They lost time with friends and teachers at school, their summer vacations and their daily routines with the coronavirus. With the arrival of autumn and the rapidly growing cases in children, another creepy ghost lifted its ugly head: would they have to give up Halloween too?
According to experts, the answer is a resounding “no”, but parents and children should know that this year will be different from the previous ones.
You need to take precautionary measures.
First, you should be aware that in the guidelines updated last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that traditional trick or treating poses a higher risk than other ways of celebrating the holiday.
The guidelines were a bit unexpected as epidemiologists and other scientists generally consider it safe to gather outdoors with face covering.
"No doubt this Halloween will be different from previous years," said Christopher Gindlesperger, senior vice president of public affairs and communications for the National Confectioners Association, a confectionery trade group. "But innovative approaches endorsed by the C.D.C., like outdoor disposable trick or treating, can be fun for the month of October."
What is safe to do?
That's right – "the month of October". Over the years, Halloween has grown from a night of scary fun for kids on October 31st to a billion dollar industry with week-long celebrations, parties, and parades enjoyed by people of all ages. A full repeal could cause significant economic disruption in a year that Covid-19 has had more than enough trauma.
For weeks, cities, retailers, and pastry chefs across the country have been preparing for more subdued celebrations – if at all.
For the scariest day of the year, the C.D.C. Listed activities in three categories: higher risk, medium risk and lower risk. Pumpkin carving with members of the same household and virtual costume contests were rated lower risk, while door-to-door trick or treating and visiting a crowded haunted house indoors were rated higher risk.
The list of moderate risks was "trick or treating, where individually wrapped bags for families are lined up so they can reach and walk while maintaining social distance".
Dr. Tista Ghosh, epidemiologist and chief medical director at Grand Rounds, a digital health company in San Francisco, said she wasn't surprised the C.D.C. For guidelines that seem to balance science and personal freedom, take what she calls "middle of the road" approach.
Dr. Ghosh, the former chief medical officer of the state of Colorado, said the concern about trick or treating was due to inherent personal interaction. The risk is highest for adults who are around children and who may have underlying medical conditions. But she said, "There are ways to attend Halloween to minimize risks."
Mr Gindlesperger, who recently welcomed a baby, said he and his family love Halloween and they treat it more like a season than an event for a night. This year they're sure to celebrate by "decorating the house, working on our coordinated family costumes," It's the big pumpkin, Charlie Brown, "carving pumpkins," and hanging out with neighbors at a safe social distance.
Tips for entertaining trick or treating
According to Dr. Ghosh strategies for safer trick or treating include: leaving baskets of candy outside your home; Children should wear gloves and hand sanitizer; and to keep parties and other gatherings outdoors and socially distant. You could lay out pool noodles or other markings so kids have visual markings for the prescribed six feet distance, she suggested.
And while you don't have to disinfect every candy wrapper, make sure your hands are clean before eating any candy, said Dr. Ghosh.
What if you don't have a porch, patio, or front yard to leave goodies on?
Dr. Ghosh recommended using a balcony if you have one, or investing in a heat lamp or structure "that can help make better use of the outside space" if you have visitors.
At the very least, she emphasized the importance of ventilation – opening windows and doors – when visiting people in your home.
Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said a small group – 10 people or fewer – could have a costume show or other outdoor gathering with masks and a social distance of at least six feet. "The key is a quick meeting that further reduces the risk," he said. "It is time together that increases the risk of transmission."
What is not sure?
Officials keen to prevent a public health disaster urge people to beware of indoor activities and large groups of people when the fall holidays, including Halloween, begin.
Overcrowded indoor parties and haunted houses "where people are huddled together and screaming," according to C.D.C. alongside the traditional trick or treating on the riskier end of the spectrum.
The agency also lists trips to rural fall festivals (think harvest festivals) if you're from an area with high Covid-19 rates as "higher risk".
Dr. Glatter agreed to this advice and went one step further: He recommended not attending Halloween parties outside of your community.
"While mask and distancing reduce risk, such events can create super-spreaders and put even more people and families with older people at risk," he said.
Both the C.D.C. and Dr. Smoother consider drinking alcohol as a higher risk activity as it can cloud your judgment and "increase risk behavior."
Beware of parades if there are any.
Some traditional Halloween parades, which invite large crowds to crowd onto sidewalks, have already been canceled or posted online, as have cities canceled parades for St. Patrick's Day in March and Pride in June.
This year it would have been the 47th annual Village Halloween Parade in New York City, but the organizers canceled the famous event and said, "Because we love you too much to endanger you, and we care about your health and well-being . "
Parades have also been canceled in many other locations, including several cities in Pennsylvania where the tradition is robust. Bethlehem will host its first virtual parade.
Portsmouth, NH, broke off its parade after "considering all of the options including a reverse parade, alternate locations, rolling parade, route changes" and concluding that there is simply no way of both the mind the parade as well as the participants / spectators to keep safe during the Covid-19 pandemic. "
"Normality" during a not entirely normal time
It's important to remember that these scary festivals mean a lot to kids, said Dr. Ghosh.
"I think taking Halloween away completely could be detrimental to some of the mental health problems kids are currently facing," said Dr. Ghosh. She added that she always cautions people "to balance the risk of any activity they do with mental health risks, too, and look for ways to minimize the risk rather than reducing the risk to zero," because this is simply not possible. "
In September, the Halloween and Costume Association announced new tools to help people make vacation decisions, including a color-coded risk map provided by the Harvard Global Health Institute.
Dr. Ghosh, herself a parent with two children, said her family plans to wear gloves and costumes (which are essential to the vacation experience) and went home “where I know the owners, where they will put candy outside . ”
A Zoom Halloween party may also be in the works, and for their oldest, a 13-year-old, a possible backyard movie night – everyone brings their own food and chairs for socially distant seating.
"Holidays help us maintain our sense of ritual and" normalcy "during a time that is not entirely normal," said Dr. Smoother. "Whatever we can do to keep holiday celebrations and traditions at least partially intact – while staying safe – serves as a guide or compass in these turbulent times."