From trick or treating to apple bobbing, the traditions of 31 October aren’t things you would immediately consider to be “Covid-safe”. So does that mean Halloween is cancelled this year?
Not necessarily, according to Dr Chris Smith, a virologist at the University of Cambridge.
“If you’re doing something that increases your contacts with other people then you are automatically increasing their risk and your risk,” he says. But by taking precautions, Dr Smith says it is still possible to enjoy Halloween safely.
That means observing social distancing with people outside your household, standing well back when knocking on any doors and always keeping your hands clean using sanitiser.
“Because it’s Halloween I’d say people are quite likely to be wearing a mask anyway so if they can make a face covering work it’s way into their costume then even better,” he adds.
Dr Smith also recommends avoiding elderly or vulnerable neighbours and perhaps agreeing with houses in advance that they are happy for you to visit for trick or treating.
“Then there’s the whole question of what are you going to do as a trick? If that involves contact or touching things that other people have touched, there’s also a risk,” he says.
“There’s also the issue of how you give a treat. If everyone’s scrabbling round in a bucket full of sweets and they touch all of them then there’s a risk of transmission.”
Covid-19 can be spread by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus, as well as through droplets breathed in. So if unwrapped sweets are left in a bucket for children to rummage in, with multiple hands touching the treats, there is a risk the virus could spread from fingers to mouths, Dr Smith explains.
To reduce this risk, he recommends giving out individually wrapped sweets so children aren’t touching something they then put straight in their mouths. Safer still, you could leave sweets outside the door for people to help themselves or even tie individual bags of sweets to a fence or tree.
Five things to do this Halloween
- Organise a Halloween treasure hunt within your own household
- Host a virtual party with themed games and music
- Watch a scary movie with the family
- Decorate your own house and organise a spooky trail, avoiding face-to-face contact
- Try reverse trick or treating by dropping off pre-packed sweets on neighbours’ doorsteps
In the US, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has already said door-to-door trick or treating is not recommended because of the difficulties of maintaining social distancing and the risks of sharing food.
And restrictions on the number of people who can meet up are in place across the UK, meaning group sizes have to be limited, or are not allowed indoors at all. Local lockdowns are also in place in many parts of the UK, with extra restrictions.
Dr Smith says indoor gatherings of multiple households – where allowed – are riskier than staying outdoors, as the virus spreads more easily in enclosed spaces. However, if a family chooses to have a small indoor party – held within the rules – he recommends maintaining social distancing between different households and washing hands regularly.
So what ways are people planning to celebrate Halloween this year? While large gatherings are likely to be off the cards this year, virtual events are still a possibility.
Elizabeth Lusty runs online choirs for children and adults and will be hosting a Halloween-themed session with fancy dress and singalongs to tunes like Monster Mash and Time Warp.
Usually she would host a Halloween party for her children, Scarlett, aged 3, and seven-year-old Frank, but this year the family, from west London, won’t be able to. Elizabeth has also ruled out knocking on doors, so there won’t be any trick or treating.
Instead, she’s still planning to decorate the house, put a bowl of sweets in her front garden and hopes to try to organise a safe trail with some of her neighbours who are doing the same.
“It’s kind of a precursor to Christmas for us,” she says. “And I love decorating the house so I’ll be getting into the spirit of it.”
Aurelie Kennedy, who has three children aged 11, 10 and two, has also been planning Covid-safe alternatives to trick or treating. A group from her local area in Marple, Stockport, has started an online map of houses that will be decorated to make a Halloween trail for families to follow.
They’re encouraging people to remain two metres apart and not to knock on doors or leave out treats – so children will only be able to admire pumpkin displays from a distance.
But Aurelie is still hopeful people will want to get involved. After posting on a local Facebook page she says the response to the idea was “amazing”.
“I think this year people are even more keen to get involved because of the circumstances,” she says. “I feel like this winter could be very grim if we don’t do something to break it up.
“Something like this really lifts the spirits.”