From attaching cardboard candy chutes to handrails to turning the front yard into an all-out haunted house, families are finding creative ways to bring Halloween to life this year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against traditional trick-or-treating, which means you may want to start thinking about your own safer ways to celebrate.
“I know a lot of people are sad about not trick-or-treating, but it’s an opportunity to create new traditions and memories for your family,” says Katie Lockwood, primary care pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
For inspiration, we asked nine local health experts what they’re planning with their kids this Halloween.
From: Craig Shapiro, pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, father to a 5-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter. (Costumes: hot dog, Princess Evie from Disney’s “Descendants”)
"We may just do things at home — carve pumpkins, do a decoration contest in the house. They’re really excited about decorating the lawn.
"If there’s going to be any trick-or-treating, it’ll be in a small group within their cohort at school, since they’re back in-person. Everyone will be wearing masks and staying distanced and looking for houses where you don’t have to walk up to the door. You don’t want people congregating on the porch or ringing the doorbell.
“Anything more than moderate transmission — we’re talking about 5 to 10% test positivity rate — and we’d probably not go, or even if the numbers are creeping up within that moderate range.”
From: Aimee Palumbo, epidemiologist and assistant professor at Temple University, mom to 3-year-old daughter. (Costume: undecided, but leaning toward dinosaur)
“We’re not going to trick-or-treat, but I’m hopeful we can have a get-together. Halloween is on a Saturday, and it’s a great opportunity to be outside while socially distancing. She’s in preschool with around 10 other kids. If we can keep it within that group that she’s already around, we may go to a park.”
From: Henry Raymond, associate professor and epidemiologist at Rutgers University, father to a 4-year-old son. (Costume: undecided)
"The thing that this virus loves is humans getting together. And I just think people should be cautious.
“We will put up decorations in our home. We have fall leaves, pumpkins, and one of those scary pumpkins with an electric candle inside. We might figure out a costume and do a Halloween candy hunt — like an Easter egg hunt. I’ve already thought of really good places to hide stuff that he won’t find, and then I won’t find until next June.”
From: Kristen Lyall, epidemiologist and assistant professor of epidemiology at Drexel University, mom to 3-year-old and 6-year-old daughters. (Costumes: unicorn, undecided)
"It’s really important to pay attention to COVID rates in the community and region. But that said, a traditional night where we go out with friends and the kids are running up to doors is not going to happen.
"My older daughter is going into a hybrid model at school. If numbers are low, I could see trick-or-treating at houses that are part of her cohort. There’s no reason families can’t go out for a walk, keep masks on, and stay socially distanced. Knocking on multiple doors vastly increases the ability to spread [the virus], but families can have individual candy bags set out.
“If the schools in the area decide to shut back down, then we’re looking at trick-or-treating in the house or a backyard candy hunt.”
From: Ala Stanford, a doctor and founder of Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, mother to a 12-year-old and 10-year-old (twin) sons. (Costumes: undecided)
"We may just watch creepy movies together, dress up, and make orange and black things to eat. The Tyler Perry movie Boo! A Madea Halloween is silly and ridiculous, but I don’t know how kid-appropriate that is. I have to mute some of the scenes. Scooby Doo has some great Halloween movies.
"For food, I’m thinking sweet potatoes, carrots, oranges. No black licorice, obviously, but my husband’s always burning stuff on the grill, so the black might be hot dogs. I saw an interesting idea where you carve out the top, and use potato chips to make the hot dog look like a finger with a fingernail. And then you cut ridges to make knuckles, put it in a bun, and put ketchup on to make it look like blood. It’s gross but cool.
“We went to a farm, and everyone got to pick their own pumpkin. Up until now we’ve painted pictures on the pumpkins, but I haven’t decided if this is the year we let the knives come out.”
From: Neal Goldstein, assistant research professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University, father to a 3-year-old son. (Costume: Charlie Brown ghost)
"We’re going to Boo at the Zoo at the Brandywine Zoo the week before. You get prepackaged bags of candy, kids wear their costumes, and it’s a timed entry, so it’s a nice way to have something planned where you can social distance.
“For Halloween, we’ll dress him up and take him to his grandparents', and he can trick-or-treat there. If the neighbors leave candy on their porch, and we can assure there aren’t other families around, we’ll participate in that. As it gets closer, I’ll chat with the neighbors.”
Krisda Chaiyachati, medical director of Penn Medicine’s virtual care program and an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, father to 2- and 4-year-old sons. (Costumes: superheroes)
"We have a low risk tolerance. We haven’t traveled, are strict about social distancing, and haven’t really gathered with anyone. But I feel like there are safety measures we can put in place, and we can try our best to parent as we go along.
“We’ll trick-or-treat but with lots of guidelines. We’re thinking about costumes with cotton masks that we can integrate into superhero costumes. We’re unlikely to knock on any doors, and we’ll pick out the candy for the kids. The type of candy matters — any unsealed wrappers, we’ll throw out. We’ll go on the earlier side. And if it’s super crowded, we’ll pivot or shift streets.”
From: Katie Lockwood, primary care pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, mom to a 6-year-old daughter and 9 year-old son. (Costumes: witch, undecided)
“My approach has been to ask my kids what they like most about Halloween so I can preserve that element. For my kids, it’s all about the candy. We’re doing a scavenger hunt where we scatter bags of candy around the yard. Some neighbors are going in on it, too. The kids won’t touch each other’s candy, and they can spread out outside. And since we’re already in contact with these people, we’re not expanding our bubble.”
From: Ashley Z. Ritter, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and the chief clinical officer of Dear Pandemic, a collective of female researchers and clinicians who publish COVID-19 safety advice, mom to a 2-year-old son, and 5-year-old and 7-year-old daughters. (Costumes: frog, skeleton, clown)
"Halloween is a holiday that’s pretty amenable to social distancing, masks, and being outside, so we’re going to give it a whirl. We’re going to put candy out in brown paper bags in our yard, and we plan on going to places where we know the family and know they’re participating in a safe way.