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

Police investigating multiple stabbing at a Newton townhouse on Tuesday night. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Man charged with murder, aggravated assault in Newton townhouse stabbings

Police have not yet released the accused’s name

Do you have someone you would like to thank? Or maybe something to get off your chest? Email your rose or rotten tomato to edit@surreynowleader.com.
Roses and Rotten Tomatoes (Oct. 22, 2020)

Our weekly collection of compliments and complaints sent in by readers

The Surrey Eagles are currently seeking billet families for its players in advance of the 2020-‘21 BC Hockey League season. (Garrett James photo)
Surrey Eagles in ‘desperate’ need of billet families for BCHL season

COVID-19 pandemic has made finding homes for players difficult: billet co-ordinator

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
Bill Fraser Health for excessive mental-health-related police time at White Rock hospital: top cop

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A reminder to students at Surrey’s Strawberry Hill Elementary to physically distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Surrey’s Senator Reid reporting first COVID-19 exposure

INTERACTIVE TABLE: Search for schools, organize by exposure dates

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

Jordan Naterer, an electrical engineer from Vancouver, was last seen Saturday Oct. 10. (Facebook photo)
Search efforts to resume for missing Manning Park hiker; Trudeau speaks on case

PM says he’ll do what he can to ‘nudge’ efforts to find Jordan Naterer, yet has little leverage locally

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

Swimco announced recently it is shutting all of its stores in Canada, including in Langley. (Swimco website)
Canadian-owned swimsuit chain bankrupt

Swimco had been in creditor protection for several months

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

École de L’Anse-au-sable. (Google Maps)
B.C. records first COVID-19 outbreak at school, six weeks after students return to class

Three cases of the virus have been identified at École de L’Anse-au-sable

Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau is seen as she leaves media event during a campaign stop in West Vancouver, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green leader hopes voters see value in minority government

The Greens received nearly 17 per cent of the popular vote in 2017 yet received just three seats

Local candidates Pam Alexis, Abbotsford-Mission, and Preet Rai, Abbotsford-West, look on as NDP Leader John Horgan main streets in Abbotsford, B.C., Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. NDP takes snap election risk during pandemic in quest for majority government

Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said the election was unnecessary and irresponsible during the pandemic

Most Read