Child holding a Jack-O-Lantern candy bowl with a mask covering its face.


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Should COVID-19 concerns impact Halloween-related festivities?

Published on Thursday, October 1, 2020

By: Bruce Coleman

Trick or treating. Fall carnivals. Costume parties. Haunted houses. Hay rides. Day of the Dead celebrations.

As the calendar pushes forward into autumn, when seemingly any activity that requires contact between individuals is still considered hazardous because of the pandemic, one large question looms for children and young adults all across Mississippi:

Will COVID-19 cancel Halloween?

Portrait of April Palmer

Not necessarily, according to Dr. April Palmer, professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

“It doesn’t mean all activities are off the table,” Palmer said. “You can still participate, but I would recommend following the same kind of basic mitigation procedures we’ve been talking about (throughout the pandemic): wearing masks, social distancing and practicing hand hygiene.

“Halloween is an ideal time to wear a mask anyway. You may have to be a tiny bit more creative about what kind of mask you wear - your princess costume may need a little extra accessory this year, for example. But trick-or-treating around the neighborhood - being outdoors and having minimal contact - is probably one of the least risky activities children can participate in.”

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control released guidelines for fall and winter celebrations, including Halloween and Dia de los Muertos. To ensure safety during any of these celebrations, Dr. Lisa Didion, UMMC professor of pediatrics, recommends carefully following those guidelines.

Portrait of Lisa Didion

“The whole approach to Halloween should still include the same principles we are using every day to limit COVID-19 spread,” said Didion, associate chief medical officer for Children’s of Mississippi. “Just like we’ve been creative in how we do our day-to-day work (during the pandemic), people can be creative in how they have fun activities related to Halloween.”

Among the activities Didion suggests that can be done in accordance with the CDC guidelines are corn mazes, small carnivals and virtual parades.

“You can limit how many people you allow in (to a maze or carnival) at any one time and use simple precautions of wearing masks, making sure people keep their distance and making sure people wash their hands,” she said. “With Zoom conferences, you can have ‘parades’ where people can show off their costumes.”

Halloween fun isn’t exclusively for children, though. Palmer said adults should also keep mitigation efforts in mind while enjoying Halloween-themed parties.

“Young adults like to get dressed up in costumes and go to somebody’s house for parties,” she said. “That’s a bigger risk, because you’re going to be around others for longer than 15 minutes who may or not be wearing their masks. You may have a lot of young adult hanging around each other who may not be particularly following mitigating factors for COVID-19.

“But if those hosting the activities would make sure people are wearing their masks to go along with their costumes, providing hand sanitizer and a place for guests to wash their hands, and encouraging people to give each other room, then it (the celebration) is probably not a game-breaker.

“You just have to use some common sense.”

The sense of having fun while ensuring participants follow necessary protocols has been the prevailing practice for Children’s of Mississippi staff. Didion said child-life team members have helped entertain and educate UMMC’s pediatrics patients while ensuring their safety in the hospital during the pandemic.

“We may not be having the big get-togethers or parties that we normally do,” she said, “but through our child life program, we still have individual activities. Our faculty and staff dress up in costumes for Halloween, which is always fun for the patients.”

Parents who may be hesitant to allow their children to participate in Halloween activities should carefully consider the circumstances and put the risks into perspective, Palmer said.

“If their children are going to school, they’re already at greater risk, especially if they’re riding the bus,” she said. “Even children who are not going to in-person school may be involved in other activities in the community where they could have a risk of exposure. Trick or treating is probably lower on the risk scale than activities like contact sports or other after-school events where they have to spend a lot of time around others.

“A lot of people prefer to take their children to fall carnivals because it’s a safer option for them than trick or treating in the neighborhood. If they’re worried about being exposed, they could attend a small carnival for a short amount of time and, if they’re not in a large crowd of people, their risk would be fairly low.”

Adults who are concerned about COVID-19 exposure but want to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters can rest assured the activity carries lowered risk for them as well, if they follow the CDC guidelines, Didion said.

“One suggestion is to place a table outside your door to put the treats on for children to ‘grab and go.’ You could still watch from a door or window and see the children in their costumes come up to the door.”

Whatever the holiday celebration - and however it’s to be celebrated - the key to managing the pandemic safely is thoughtfulness, Didion said.

“We all have to have some personal responsibility and accountability for doing our part to limit the spread of COVID-19,” she said. “Having appropriate behaviors during the holidays is one example of that.

“It’s about doing the right thing for yourself, for your children and for the community.”

The above article appears in CONSULT, UMMC’s monthly e-newsletter sharing news about cutting-edge clinical and health science education advances and innovative biomedical research at the Medical Center and giving you tips and suggestions on how you and the people you love can live a healthier life. Click here and enter your email address to receive CONSULT free of charge. You may cancel at any time.