Halloween in the Time of COVID-19

Trick or treat . . . or COVID-19? As Halloween and Día de Los Muertos approach, many families are feeling haunted by the pandemic and wondering whether they can participate in the holiday’s beloved festivities while maintaining the health and safety of themselves and others.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with local county officials and health experts, recommend avoiding high-risk activities—including large parties, indoor haunted houses and mazes, and traditional trick-or-treating, which bring large groups from different households together—to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Yvonne Maldonado, MD, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, spoke with Today about some of the adjustments being made this year:

Families “might be able to do distanced events or go outdoors with two or three friends who stay apart. It’s going to be tough, but there are creative ways to do it as long as you can stay within those parameters of distancing [staying at least six feet apart] and masking hygiene.”

The CDC and local county health officials are providing guidance on ways to continue celebrating this year while keeping your family safe and healthy.

Low-risk activities include:

  • Carving or decorating pumpkins. If done outside, at a safe distance, this activity could include a small group of neighbors or friends.
  • Decorating your home.
  • Doing a Halloween scavenger hunt where children are given lists of Halloween-themed things to look for while they walk outdoors from house to house admiring Halloween decorations at a distance.
  • Having a virtual Halloween costume contest. For extra fun, encourage children to model their costume or play out their character, record it, and combine the clips for a fun video keepsake.
  • Having a Halloween movie night with people you live with.
  • Doing a trick-or-treat search (think Easter egg hunt!) with your household members in or around your home instead of going house to house.
  • Preparing traditional family recipes with members of your household, playing music in your home that your deceased loved ones enjoyed, and making an altar for the deceased.

Moderate-risk activities include:

  • Having an outdoor, open-air costume parade or movie night with a very small group where people are distanced more than 6 feet apart and are wearing masks that cover the nose and mouth.
  • Participating in one-way trick-or-treating where individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up for families to take while continuing to physically distance (such as at the end of a driveway or at the edge of a yard).
    • Of note, candy shouldn’t be eaten while outside the home because that would require both removing the face mask and touching wrappers without handwashing.
  • Visiting an outdoor pumpkin patch, where people use hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins while wearing a mask and maintaining distance from others.

Additionally, if you plan to leave the house in costume, it’s important to remember that most costume masks are not sufficient protection against the spread of COVID-19, so children should continue to wear their typical cloth face masks that cover the nose and mouth. The CDC advises people not to wear a costume mask over a cloth mask because it can be dangerous if the costume mask makes it hard to breathe. Instead, consider using a Halloween-themed cloth mask.

At Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, in place of the annual trick-or-treat trail, the Child Life and Creative Arts team has a full week of fun and engaging events planned for patients and families inside the hospital. Child life specialists will be walking the halls of each unit with decorated carts, delivering Halloween treat bags to each patient’s bedside, and encouraging patients to share photos of themselves in costume for a virtual Halloween parade, which will be held via the hospital’s Sophie’s Place Broadcast Studio.


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