Expert Explainer: Greta Bauer, PhD, on celebrating a COVID-19-safe Halloween

As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise across Ontario, parents are grappling with how and if they can continue with Halloween traditions in a safe way.

Greta Bauer, PhD, Professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry is an epidemiologist with a background in infectious disease epidemiology. She explains how we can enjoy this annual tradition in a way that keeps the health of our kids and each other in mind.


Can trick-or-treating be done safely in non-hotspot areas?

Yes, trick-or-treating can be done safely in non-hotspot areas. When it comes to social activity during the pandemic, we’ve been told to stay outside in small groups, socially distanced, and staying with people in our social bubble. Trick-or-treating largely checks all those boxes, as long as we can avoid being too close to other people. 

So, the part that needs consideration is the candy-delivery methodology and I think that’s where people have been getting really creative. People are talking about putting bags attached by clothes pins to a clothes line, so kids can take one out without reaching into a communal bowl, or using a tube, hockey stick or very long tongs as a way of delivering candy to kids from at least six feet away. I think there is a lot of creativity and people are really rising to the challenge.

What about the hotspot regions?

Right now, the provincial hot spots are Ottawa, Toronto, York Region and Peel Region and these are areas where the numbers are up and in some cases testing is lagging behind. When there is a delay in getting results from testing, that also means there is a delay in contact tracing. So, when you are trying to trace contacts four or five days later than an ideal scenario, it is a situation where the virus could have spread from those people to others already. And so those are areas where we really need to be extra cautious and where the province has recommended that people forgo trick-or-treating for this year and find alternative ways to celebrate.

Should we worry about virus being transmitted on candy wrappers?

One good news piece out of the pandemic is that transmission through fomites, that’s the word that we use when a virus is on a surfaces like a doorknob or a candy wrapper, is not as big of a problem as we feared earlier in the epidemic. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. In fact, we know that there are some cases where actual transmission can’t be determined and there are certainly cases where people who are quite clear that they’ve been staying home have gotten the virus anyway, and so we still do need to be concerned to some extent about that.

So, people may want to think about allowing their kids to collect candy, but then either have parents open it themselves, remove the candy and then wash their hands, or let the candy sit around for a couple of days before opening it. That could be a parenting challenge, but it could prevent the day-after Hallowe’en where kids are sleep deprived and buzzing on sugar.

 What other things should parents be thinking about when it comes to Halloween?

If you are a parent and you are taking out your child on Halloween, you want to think in advance about what you are going to do if you approach a house, the light is on, they are in business for trick-or-treating and someone comes out without a mask on, worst case scenario, they cough into their sleeve and then they ask your kid to come grab something out of a bowl. So, you really want to think through those scenarios in advance and think how you are going to say, "no" to that situation. It’s good to strategize around that.

The other thing that needs a little bit of thinking about is masks. On Halloweeen people often wear costume masks, and now we’re asking people to also wear a non-medical mask. And so, you really want to make sure you are doing that in a way that is not going to impact breathing, and so I would think about whether or not there are ways to make the non-medical mask a part of the costume instead of putting something else over the top of it.

What about Halloween parties?

What’s important here is that we are sticking with our own households, so you need to think about what you can do that’s going to be as safe as possible. We want to be able to maintain these traditions and it’s important for us to have these annual rituals and celebrations; at the same time, it does mean we are going to be doing things differently. You could have a video costume party. I know early in epidemic, people were going video clubbing, and having dance parties online at video night clubs and certainly costumes would be great to be able to see virtually event if you can’t be with them in person. So, I think we just need to get creative this year about how we do that and maybe we’ll establish some new traditions that we can take forward.