By Dr. Negaar Sagafi
As my patients know, I have opinions about Halloween. More specifically, I have opinions about Halloween candy, which is hard on braces and brackets. Orthodontia and Jolly Ranchers simply do not mix. In fact, the results often are terrifying.
This year, Halloween is scarier than usual. Coronavirus threatens to steal more happy moments from our children and while I’d prefer that kiddos stay away from hard candy, I want them to celebrate. I want them to have fun.
How can they do that?
First, let’s remember that some of the most active participants in our Halloween traditions are our elderly neighbors. Who doesn’t get excited to see a sweet little Hermione or Harry Potter at their door? As we have for the last eight months, we must think first of the health and safety of our most vulnerable friends and family. Every piece of advice below is an effort to keep them – and you – safe.
But if you are someone who falls into the “vulnerable” category, there are still ways to celebrate – without even opening your door. Try:
- Putting a spin on the “garden walk.” Establish a list of neighbors that will commit to putting out the spookiest decorations. Create a map, post it on your local listserv, and encourage families to drive the route during an established time on October 31.
- Channeling your inner Willie Wonka. Willie Wonka didn’t just make candy … he made candy an experience. Get creative about delivery. Leaving out a bowl rarely works (teenagers always take it all, right?), so create a scavenger hunt. Leave clues to where you’ve hidden morsels around your yard. Or do what this dad featured in The Washington Post did: create a candy chute.
- Boo’ing your neighbors. This tradition is perfect for our current times. Boo’ing involves placing a basket of goodies on a neighbor’s porch and disappearing. The candy comes with a note instructing your neighbor to “boo” someone else. If your home has been boo’d, put a sign out so as many children as possible receive sweet treats.
The Centers for Disease Control, along with Washington, D.C. and Montgomery County, Md. public officials, also have released guidance on how to celebrate Halloween this year. As a healthcare provider, I agree with it, but I also recognize that families have approached this pandemic differently. While officials do not recommend traditional trick-or-treating, some parents will allow this tradition, so the question is: what are some smart tactics that will keep children safe.
First, remember that costume masks will not protect your child from getting the virus, or spreading it. Adequate face coverings are not optional. The CDC’s advice on choosing masks is here.
Second, do not allow children to pop a piece of candy into their mouths while trick or treating, even if they have used hand sanitizer. Your child should not touch their face until their hands have been thoroughly washed. We still do not know everything there is to know about COVID-19 transmits, but we do know it is a respiratory disease. Keeping masks on and keeping interactions short are two of the best steps a person can take to protect themselves.
Third, travel the neighborhood only as a family. For many children, Halloween will be their first big event in eight months. It will be hard, if not impossible, to contain their considerable excitement, but it will be easier if a group is small. And, of course, it is easier to stay at least six feet away if you’re travelling as a small unit. Remember: the six foot rule applies especially when individuals are talking, eating, and drinking … which we do a lot of on Halloween.
Other steps to take include:
- Carrying a bell or noisemaker instead of ringing the doorbell.
- Sanitizing the candy. I recommend creating your own “candy wipes” using gauze and Cavicide, a safe disinfectant we use in our office that is available on Amazon.
- Keeping interactions as brief as possible. If a friend opens the door, stay six feet away, say thank you, and politely move on.
These steps should mitigate risk, but, they will not eliminate it. To keep Halloween as safe as possible, stay home. While bobbing for apples is a bad idea, there are plenty of ways to celebrate the holiday, including:
- Going on a ghost hunt by downloading an online game like Phasmophobia and playing it virtually with friends or family;
- Holding a family Halloween movie night;
- Decorating your home (inside and out) with Halloween-themed arts and crafts;
- Finding an outdoor restaurant with a Halloween-themed meal, or cooking one at home;
- Using an online meeting platform to host a costume contest or pumpkin carving contest; or
- Dressing up your pups for a Halloween parade around the neighborhood.
One of my favorite ideas? The Switch Witch … with a pandemic twist. Leave candy on the kitchen counter for the good witch Switch. She will swoop in during the night on her mighty broom, grab the sugar, and leave a new toy in its place! (Normally Switch claims the candy trick or treaters amass on October 31, but with this spin anyone can play during COVID.)
Another smart idea is reverse trick or treating, which combines the fun of a Fourth of July parade with Halloween’s creativity. With this option, children dress up, but stay on their own lawns and porches. Adults who parade through the neighborhood on foot or decorated bikes and vehicles while throwing candy. Staying safe this Halloween is all about proper mask-wearing, mitigating contact, and maintaining a safe social distance. Reverse trick-or-treating, when properly supervised by mom and dad, achieves all that.
Just remember to brush those teeth!