Prescribe Halloween safety by region, current conditions


Halloween is fast approaching and retail stores are fully stocked with costumes and candy. Physician dialog is beginning to shift from school access toward how to counsel patients and families on COVID-19 safety around Halloween. What steps families ultimately take about Halloween will hinge on where they live and what the COVID infection and death rates are in their area, advised pediatrician Shelly Vaziri Flais, MD.

A homeowner gives Halloween candy at a safe distance to a trick-or-treater using a homemade "Halloween chute" attached to a hand rail next to front steps at a house. Courtesy Andrew Beattie

A homeowner gives Halloween candy at a safe distance to a trick-or-treater using a homemade "Halloween chute" attached to a hand rail next to front steps at a house.

Halloween “is going to look very different this year, especially in urban and rural settings, according to Dr. Flais, who is a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics and assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at Northwestern University, Chicago. The notion that trick-or-treating automatically involves physically distancing is a misconception. Urban celebrations frequently see many people gathering on the streets, and that will be even more likely in a pandemic year when people have been separated for long periods of time.

For pediatricians advising families on COVID-19 safety measures to follow while celebrating Halloween, it’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach, said Dr. Flais, who practices pediatrics at Pediatric Health Associates in Naperville, Ill.

The goal for physicians across the board should be “to ensure that we aren’t so cautious that we drive folks to do things that are higher risk,” she said in an interview. “We are now 6-7 months into the pandemic and the public is growing weary of laying low, so it is important for physicians to not recommend safety measures that are too restrictive.”

The balance pediatricians will need to strike in advising their patients is tricky at best. So in dispensing advice, it is important to make sure that it has a benefit to the overall population, cautioned Dr. Flais. Activities such as hosting independently organized, heavily packed indoor gatherings where people are eating, drinking, and not wearing masks is not going to be beneficial for the masses.

Dr. Shelly V. Flais Courtesy Dr. Shelly V. Flais

Dr. Shelly V. Flais

“We’re all lucky that we have technology. We’ve gotten used to doing virtual hugs and activities on Zoom,” she said, adding that she has already seen some really creative ideas on social media for enjoying a COVID-conscious Halloween, including a festive candy chute created by an Ohio family that is perfect for distributing candy while minimizing physical contact.

In an AAP press release, Dr. Flais noted that “this is a good time to teach children the importance of protecting not just ourselves but each other.” How we choose to manage our safety and the safety of our children “can have a ripple effect on our family members.” It is possible to make safe, responsible choices when celebrating and still create magical memories for our children.

Francis E. Rushton Jr., MD, of the University of South Carolina, Columbia, said in an interview, “ I certainly support the AAP recommendations. Because of the way COVID-19 virus is spread, I would emphasize with my patients that the No. 1 thing to do is to enforce facial mask wearing while out trick-or-treating.

“I would also err on the side of safety if my child was showing any signs of illness and find an alternative method of celebrating Halloween that would not involve close contact with other individuals,” said Dr. Rushton, who is a member of the Pediatric News editorial advisory board.


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