Halloween is spookier than ever this year because there is a real threat: COVID-19.

With the dangers of infection and the anxiety surrounding the virus looming over the holiday, both parents and children are wondering what to do. And, as public health experts who have been closely following the pandemic’s progress, we have some tips on how you and your family can successfully handle Halloween this year.

Pandemic Halloween

In the Lutheran church parking lot in Cleveland in 2019, adults offered trunk or treat. That’s one of the safer options for distributing candy during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. (File photo/Richard Rohlfing/southernminn.com)

How risky is your neighborhood?

How much you and your kids should do depends on the risk of infection in your area. You can start by checking the Harvard Global Health Institute’s color-coded map, which shows the level of coronavirus risk in your county. See the map at halloween2020.org.

According to the map, Le Sueur County and Nicollet County are in the orange zone, which is the second highest risk category. For counties in the orange zone, the public health team behind the map recommends a few different pandemic-aware activities, as opposed to the typical Halloween fare.

• Trick or Treat in Reverse: Get the kids all decked out in their costume of choice and hang out with them in the front yard as neighbors walk or drive by and deliver candy.

• Trick or Treat Drive By: Take a ride on over to visit friends and family in costume. Honk, text or shout upon arrival and deliver some treats or tricks in costume to your favorite folks.

• Costume Week: Fully embrace your inner costume character and dress up throughout the entire week leading up to that big ol’ blue moon. Your friends and family will have a blast running errands, walking the dog or joining a zoom meeting … in costume.

• Neighborhood Candy Hunt: A trick or treat treasure map can point to all the goodies or just let ‘em run wild and discover strategically placed stashes of sweets. Make sure to lay the ground rules to keep social distancing guidelines in place.

• Neighborhood Pub Crawl: For all the late-night shenanigan seekers who are over the (blue) moon excited about having an extra hour to celebrate this year, some social distancing shots may be in order. Set up driveway stations with Halloween libations and reconnect with your neighborhood pals.

In some communities, you may want to skip trick-or-treating altogether. In others, you might set a time limit. Some neighborhoods may send kids out in shifts.

If you do trick-or-treating the traditional way, maintaining social distancing between families is a must. All children living in the same house should stay together. Use hand sanitizer between house visits, and make sure you and your kids are wearing appropriate facial coverings. Don’t rely on a Halloween mask to provide adequate protection; instead, incorporate the child’s existing cloth mask into the costume itself. The CDC recommends face masks for children over age 2 when they’re out in public.

Pandemic Halloween - Handing Out Candy

Treat givers should take caution in handing out candy and other goods during the pandemic in 2020, making sure they’re symptom free and not making unnecessary contact. (File photo/southernminn.com)

Arriving home, put the treat bag in quarantine for three to four days to allow time for any virus particles to die. Make sure everyone washes their hands. Have a pre-made “treat bag” available so the kids can enjoy something that night while waiting for their booty to be virus-free.

As for trick-or-treaters coming to your house, turn on your porch light to welcome them only if everyone in your family is symptom-free and low-risk. Be creative in distributing the candy; an Ohio man created a candy chute to deliver contact-free goodies. Keep your mask on and wear gloves. You can toss treat bags to the kids or drop the candy at a designated “Place Bucket Here” zone rather than letting them grab from a large pile. Mark off socially distanced areas for children and chaperones to wait.

Skipping trick-or-treating

If you’re not taking your children door-to-door, you can still celebrate at home. Age-appropriate Halloween movies, read-alongs with Halloween books, a scavenger hunt for treats hidden around the house or a create-your-own-costume party are all ways to engage. A virtual Halloween party where children and their friends dress up and celebrate via videoconferencing lets kids show off costumes without risking exposure.

Older kids and teens may opt out of trick-or-treating this year. But they can enjoy virtual karaoke parties or scary movie nights. They can use culinary and creative skills to construct spooky treats, like meatball eyes, hot dogs carved like severed fingers and skeletons assembled out of relishes. And, of course, there’s the traditional activity: carving and decorating pumpkins.

Whatever your family does this Halloween, don’t forget the basics of personal protection. Masks should fit well and be worn over the mouth and nose, even when outside if there is potential for contact with others. Avoid confined spaces. Keep a social distance of at least six feet between your family and others. Regularly clean frequently touched objects.

COVID-19 can be scary and, for many, dangerous. But you can still have a Halloween that’s fun, healthy and safe if you follow the guidelines.

St. Peter Herald and Le Sueur County News Editor Philip Weyhe contributed to this article.

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