The scariest thing this Halloween likely has nothing to do with creepy costumes or crazed zombies — it’s COVID-19.
After being largely housebound most of the summer, children more than ever are eager to gather with friends and tramp house-to-house on the quest for candy.
Unfortunately, many traditional Halloween activities aren’t considered safe, and public health officials are encouraging families to celebrate at home or consider other options.
Jim Savage, a pediatric injury prevention manager for American Family Children’s Hospital, said health officials understand that “trick-or-treating is a rite of passage for kids” and “there are some safer ways to do trick-or-treating in communities allowing it.”
One idea is to organize all the trick-or-treaters in a neighborhood to start trick-or-treating at one end of the neighborhood: Having children walk in the same direction from house to house while keeping distanced to pick up pre-filled “goodie bags” from the curb, as opposed to ringing doorbells and being handed candy, Savage said.
The high level of COVID-19 transmission, on top of an upcoming flu season, makes it “really critical that we do everything we can to reduce exposure to people outside of our household,” agrees Ryan Wozniak, a supervisor in the Bureau of Communicable Diseases for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
Traditional trick-or-treating often involves large crowds and narrow walkways — both of which can increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission, he said.
People should avoid any indoor Halloween activities, Wozniak said. Even outdoor gatherings, such as a bonfire, have a moderate risk and are not encouraged, he said.
And if there’s alcohol involved there’s “less vigilance at maintaining social distance over time.”
“I think the safe way to do it is to place treat bags or candy bags outside your home,” Wozniak said, adding families could also drop them off on friends’ porches. “Our hope is that based on the recent uptick in cases ... that people will be more careful about holding activities and events.”
When it comes to celebrating Halloween, some Dane County families are getting creative.
Gina Cuta lives in Springfield Corners in the Middleton-Cross Plains School District. Her three children, ages 6, 4 and 2, “love Halloween,” Cuta said. And while trick-or-treating feels like maybe it could be OK, “we felt a little unsure about it.”
She was checking out some options online when she came across an idea for an Easter egg hunt with a Halloween twist. Her plan is to hold the candy hunt at twilight; which might also include a scavenger hunt.
We’re still figuring it out, Cuta said. “Our neighborhood is small with spaced-out lots ... not a lot of kids trick-or-treat.”
“I feel like everyone is going to have mixed feelings” about trick-or-treating, Cuta said.
In the past they’ve left a bowl of candy at their door for trick-or-treaters to help themselves. Cuta said her husband joked about sling-shotting candy to kids this year.
Down the pipe
Katie Gander and her husband Rick aren’t planning to slingshot candy, but they do have a different idea when it comes to Halloween treat delivery.
“I do property maintenance plumbing by trade and I just got a 3-inch piece of PVC (pipe) and strapped it at an angle on the front step,” Rick explained of the family’s new candy chute.
In recent years, the Ganders, along with now 4-year-old daughter Addy, would sit at the end of their driveway with a bonfire and hand out candy.
“(The candy chute) is something that would be super-fun for her,” Katie Gander said, adding it will be different and fun for neighborhood children to catch the candy.
The Ganders said they usually see between 30 and 50 trick-or-treaters, not a huge amount, but it’s been important to them to do what they can during the pandemic to have fun in a safe way.
“We’ve definitely ... been putting a little extra effort to keep things normal and keep things fun,” Katie Gander said.
With any luck the candy chute will “give people a smile and something to talk about,” Rick Gander said.
This month the Madison Children’s Museum is doing 31 days of online programming, all of which is Halloween-related, said Kia Karlen, the museum’s director of education.
This includes a virtual slideshow of “Baby’s First Halloween” and putting a Halloween spin on weekly music events.
“The art studio manager set up a wonderful Halloween stage as a setting for a lot of these programs,” Karlen said. “At the museum we love Halloween.”
At her house, Karlen said she’s contemplating rigging up a clothesline to safely get candy to trick-or-treaters. That way children are “just touching the piece that they’re taking,” Karlen said.
Other ideas for Halloween night include a virtual costume contest by connecting with friends or families via Zoom or FaceTime, said hospital spokesman Savage.
If families do go out, Savage also recommends following traffic safety rules including cross streets at crosswalks, leaving cell phones and other electronics at home.
People who are looking down at their phone can miss a step and fall easily, Savage said, adding that drivers should be extra vigilant on Halloween night.
Also, if attending any kind of outdoor haunted house or corn maze, make sure to socially distance — especially if there’s a lot of yelling.
Screaming can increase the chance for the spread of airborne transmission of the virus, Savage said.
Savage and Wozniak both stress that most costume masks aren’t designed to help prevent transmission, and just because Halloween revelers are wearing a wicked Freddy Krueger mask, does not mean they are protecting themselves or others from infection.
“Costume masks do not provide effective source control or respiratory protection,” Wozniak said.
He suggests forgoing costume masks in general and wearing a COVID-appropriate face covering, many of which come in different Halloween themes.
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