Eleven-year-old Hayley McDermott walks down the pathway of a decorated house during Halloween celebrations in Toronto, Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Eleven-year-old Hayley McDermott walks down the pathway of a decorated house during Halloween celebrations in Toronto, Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Trick or Treat? Experts divided on letting kids go out on Halloween due to COVID risk

Health officials have said a safe Halloween is possible despite the pandemic

As COVID-19 case numbers continue to creep up in parts of the country, some parents are feeling spooked about letting their children trick-or-treat on Halloween.

Should they carry on with the door-to-door tradition, or find a different way to commemorate the eerie event?

While some infectious disease pediatricians say now is not the time for trick-or-treating, especially in COVID hot spots, others contend that the outdoor nature of the activity makes it fairly low-risk.

Dr. Anna Banerji, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Health, says trick or treating should “probably be cancelled this year.”

“We’ve just shut down gyms and restaurants (in parts of Ontario and Quebec) to try to control COVID,” she said. “So I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Areas with few COVID cases will be safer for trick-or-treaters, Banerji says, but having contact with multiple people, regardless of how brief those interactions are, can carry higher risk in cities with larger concentrations of the virus.

Banerji says it will be tough to keep kids — excited to see their dressed-up counterparts — from congregating on driveways and sidewalks, which will make it harder for parents accompanying them to keep safe distance as well.

“In general it’s not high-risk when you’re just walking by someone on the street, but when you’ve got a whole bunch of kids and they’re walking together, the risk might go up,” Banerji said. “And the adults are there too. And they’re being exposed to all these different kids.”

Dr. Martha Fulford of McMaster Children’s Hospital says the risk of COVID spreading through trick-or-treaters is “very small.”

The outdoor element helps mitigate danger, Fulford says, adding that keeping distance from groups on sidewalks should be easy enough by walking around them.

Still, she suggests safeguards to minimize potential transmission, like getting trick-or-treaters to stick to their own neighbourhoods, and making sure kids clean their hands before indulging in their bounty.

Homeowners wary of contracting the virus from costumed kiddos on their porches can find creative ways to hand out candy as well.

READ MORE: Top 10 timely Halloween costumes: From Baby Yoda to Black Panther to ‘2020 Dumpster Fire’

Fulford suggests candy handlers sit outside, if weather permits, to avoid having too many fingers pushing doorbells. She doesn’t suggest leaving a bulk, self-serve bowl outside, however, since having “multiple tiny hands” reaching in makes that a high-touch surface.

“Use tongs. Get some kind of dispensing thing or build a little slide where you pop the candy in a tube and it pops out the other end for the kids,” Fulford said.

“We’ve learned COVID generally is not well-transmitted on surfaces. We don’t think there’s a problem when we go grocery shopping or anything like that. So sealed candies is not a problem.”

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Tuesday that trick-or-treating could proceed as long as participants follow physical distancing and other safety protocols. She mentioned handing out treats on a hockey stick, or using pool noodles to separate kids from homeowners at their front doors.

READ MORE: COVID-19 won’t spook away trick-or-treating if safety rules followed: health officers

The CDC agrees we don’t have to shelf trick-or-treating completely, recommending children stay six feet (two metres) apart and wear cloth masks that can be made as part of their costumes. The organization says a costume mask is not a substitute for a cloth mask, but layering of masks can cause breathing difficulties and isn’t advised.

Fulford says face coverings aren’t necessary for children outdoors, but adults accompanying kids on their candy quest can wear them if distance can’t be maintained from other groups. If homeowners handing out candy feel safer wearing face coverings, they should do that as well, she adds.

Banerji, meanwhile, says all parties involved in trick-or-treating should be wearing face coverings. But better yet is not taking part at all.

“For the first Halloween in my life, we’re not going to do it,” she said. “I just don’t think it’s safe.”

Fulford worries too many households will go that route, leaving kids disappointed.

She says kids have “borne the brunt of pandemic restrictions,” from school closures back in March to extracurriculars, team sports and in-person birthday parties taken away in the months since.

“It’s an easy default is to say ‘no Halloween’ but those who suffer the consequences are our kids,” Fulford said. “To the best of our ability, I really do not think we should be canceling childhood.

“What are we teaching our children (by cancelling Halloween)? We’re teaching them to be scared to have social interactions and we’re not teaching resilience. So I worry.”

READ MORE: B.C. CDC releases Halloween tips for COVID-safe fall celebrations

Dr. Nicole Racine, a child psychology expert with the University of Calgary, says kids are “creatures of habit” who can find routine and meaning in annual traditions like Halloween.

So we have to be careful not to take too many of those shared experiences away from them, she added.

Racine suggests we find ways to replace experiences like trick-or-treating, such as holding a candy scavenger hunt within your own household, rather than cancel them outright.

“It’s about how we can reframe things for kids so that there’s still something to look forward to, still something to enjoy, and still something that can be quite meaningful to them,” Racine said.

“It’s going to be a balance of thinking about (limiting) risk to keep other members of our society safe while still being able to enjoy some of the social activities involved with being a kid.”

Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusHalloween

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(BC Hydro outage map)
More than 3,000 Sooke residents without power

Cause of outage under investigation

Christopher Mauro, right, assistant manager of the Sidney Save-On-Foods, and Nick Luney, youth initiatives director for the Victoria Pride Society, celebrate the success of a pandemic fundraiser for the local Pride Society. (Courtesy Save-On Foods)
Grocery managers across the Island pull together for Queer youth

With Victoria Pride Parade and Festival cancelled, Save-On-Foods staff found a way to raise funds

The mottled sky, the lights coming on at water’s edge and in Victoria West, and the reflections on the building windows make for a scenic sunset photo in Victoria’s Selkirk neighbourhood. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Sunset on the Selkirk in Victoria

Send your photos to editor@vicnews.com for a chance to see them in the paper

Shay Baker, 17, hasn’t been seen or heard from since Oct. 21 and is wanted on outstanding warrants. (Victoria Police Department)
Victoria police searching for high-risk missing youth

Shay Baker, 17, is wanted on outstanding warrants

Plastic Ocean by Oak Bay resident Gabriela Hirt is in the Federation of Canadian Artist’s “Crisis” exhibition on now in Vancouver. (Gabriela Hirt/cropped to fit)
Oak Bay artist wins juried show in Vancouver

Pair of Oak Bay artists part of ‘Crisis’ exhibition

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

BC Liberals Leader Andrew Wilkinson, BC Greens Sonia Furstenau, BC NDP John Horgan (The Canadian Press photos)
British Columbians vote in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

At dissolution, the NDP and Liberals were tied with 41 seats in the legislature, while the Greens held two seats

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson,  BC NDP leader John Horgan and BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau. (File)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Climate change and sustainability promises from the parties

Snap election has led to a short campaign; here’s the lowdown on the platforms

Conservative member of Parliament Michelle Rempel Garner, left to right, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen arrive to hold a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No-confidence showdown over sweeping Tory motion on government handling of pandemic

The Conservative motion is to be put to a vote Monday and has the support of both the Bloc Québécois and NDP

Most Read