Safer Trick-or-Treating During a Pandemic

Safer Trick-or-Treating During a Pandemic September 16, 2020

I want to follow up on my post in favor of not outlawing trick-or-treating with some thoughts on how to make a pretty-safe activity into a more-safe activity.

Some ideas:

#1 You don’t have to do this.

In terms of exposure to a respiratory virus, I think standard trick-or-treating is similar to going the grocery store.  Early on in the history of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was concern that touching shared surfaces could be a major vector of transmission; over time the evidence leans towards that not being a significant route of transmission.  (Wash your hands anyway — there are plenty of other diseases that are passed that way.)  In many parts of the country, therefore, we have reopened places like clothing stores and book stores, because we realized that these activities could be made relatively safe by focusing on mask usage, limiting the number of people in the store, improving ventilation, and basic hand hygeine.

You might not be one of the people who has gone back to these practices.

You may be in the category of people who need to continue with grocery deliveries and avoiding all outings whatsoever.  Or you might be in the category that needs limit yourself to only the most essential interactions.  Or you might just be perfectly happy without trick-or-treating and don’t see the point.

No problem.  Turn your porch light off, draw the blinds, pop some popcorn, watch a movie.

–> If your kids want to experience some candy-related fun despite your wanting or needing to skip trick-or-treating, plan another thing. I like the idea of hiding the candy around the house like an Easter egg hunt.

Just because an activity is low-risk enough that it doesn’t need to be outlawed for the general population doesn’t mean that it’s low risk enough for you.  The constitutional prohibition against establishment of religion protects you 100% from participating in this particular annual feast.

#2 You can host trick-or-treaters with zero contact.

If you want to give out candy but you need to stay 100% safe, then set up a self-serve station and watch through the glass.  Depending on your situation, you may need to team up with someone to refresh or supervise candy distribution.  You may need to watch from some location other than your own home, if your home isn’t well-suited for this.  Maybe it’s not practical to make this work.  But for many elderly or high-risk individuals who enjoy the annual parade of children in costumes, there are creative ways to continue to host trick-or-treaters without any exposure, at all, to the germs kids carry.

#3 You can host with lower-contact.

A wise friend pointed out that opening your front door to hundreds of clamoring children is a terrible idea.  I couldn’t agree more.

Even though I’ve never heard of trick-or-treating being associated with a spike in respiratory illnesses, during a pandemic it is still wise to move the encounter outdoors.  I realize this may not work for everyone in every single housing situation or climate.  Still.  I think many people who want to host trick-or-treaters can figure out a creative way to distribute candy without opening the front door.

Some ideas, in addition to the usual porch or patio:

  • Set up an awning, screen tent, or pop-up shelter.
  • Create a pass-through in a ground-floor window.
  • Convert an existing breezeway, sunroom, mudroom, carport, or garage into a highly ventilated zone for staging the candy, sealed off from the rest of your home.
  • Use an existing gazebo or play structure to create a sheltered candy station.
  • Build a temporary structure, think cross between a fair booth and a cashier’s window.
  • Erect some decorative fencing around your front door so that you can step all the way out and shut your door behind you while you distribute candy, without kids being crowded close by.
  • Host at the home of a friend in your bubble who has a better set-up for hosting.

This last one could work very well for, say, an elderly relative who has a front porch.  You sit on the porch and give out candy, and the relative watches and greets through the glass.

#4 You can distribute candy with fewer touches from grubby hands.

Another concern about trick-or-treating is that hundreds of kids will all be putting their hands into the candy bowl and digging around.  There are ways that you as the host can eliminate that problem:

  • Spread out the candy on a tray so that trick-or-treaters can easily pick up their share without digging (you’ll need to refresh through the evening).
  • Bag the candy (especially so if you give out more than one piece per person) so the kids just take one sandwich bag’s worth.
  • Have kids open wide their bag and you drop in their allotment.
  • Do a cashier’s window station and you push through the slot just that child’s candy for the child to pick up.

Again, I totally get it that some people don’t enjoy hosting trick-or-treaters enough to make it worth this kind of trouble.  But if Halloween is your happy time, all these risk-reducing modes are ripe with opportunity to add some haunted-house or themed decorations.

Kids really, really love anything that is playful.  If you enjoy Halloween festivities, believe me kids will be completely on board with following a trail of lights and doing a trick or two to stay spaced and use the pick-up system of your choice.  If it’s playful and you can clearly show them how your Halloween-house works, kids will be all over it.

Pro-tip: To make kids stay spaced, put down stepping-stones of some nature, and a sign that the everything off the stones is lava.

Seriously.  If you just speak into the mic in alarm “Ah! You’re ON THE LAVA! AH!!!” kids will hop back on their square.

#5 Parents, you can supervise your children.

Apparently it’s a thing to not require your child to get home and have parents inspect the candy before eating?

I didn’t know this.

It seems there are parents who totally just expect their kid to dig into the candy while out on the road.

Um, well, that was never a good idea.  –> Clearly these people have never worked a canned food drive and discovered that not everybody knows how to give out unexpired, original-packaging food.

Anyhow.  This year you can do it differently.  If your child can’t be trusted with the bag (true for many little kids), you the parent can physically manage the candy bag.  If your child can mostly be trusted with the candy bag, listen: It’s never a good idea for your child* to trick-or-treat without an adult.  Review the rules, and then watch your kid as you travel from house to house.  Make it clear before you begin that this is a pandemic year, and therefore the first time a piece of candy goes into the mouth while out on the road, that’s the end of trick-or-treating and all the candy is going to be given away and we’re going home and going to bed.

#6 Parents, you can teach your children to assess a house.

If there are so few trick-or-treaters that there is no one to watch approach the home ahead of you, you’re in a lower-risk situation already.  But if you are trick-or-treating in a heavily trafficked neighborhood, then you and your child can observe the family ahead as you approach each home.

If you aren’t comfortable that the home is distributing candy in a sufficiently low-risk manner for your family’s safety-level, keep on walking.  If you like, you can make a deal with your child that for each higher-risk home you skip, parents will chip in a piece of candy from the private stash.

Why bother with all this?

So I’ve just laid out a bazillion ways to complicate Halloween, when you could just do #1 and skip trick-or-treating altogether.  Why?

Because I believe in the virtue of prudence.  When we practice prudence, we don’t casually dismiss real risks, but we also don’t timidly refrain from any activity that can’t be made 100% perfectly safe.  Rather, we assess the whole picture: Given the risks and benefits of this activity, how should I proceed?

Is it dangerous enough and unimportant enough that I should avoid it altogether?  If yes, avoid the thing.

Is it safe enough and important enough that I’d be silly to avoid it on the risk of some remotely possible freak accident occurring? If yes, do the thing.

Trick-or-treating, like most things in life, falls somewhere in between.  You don’t have to have it, just like you don’t have to have 99% of the things you fill your life with.  Let’s just empty your closet and your budget right now of all the little extras that aren’t strictly speaking necessary for survival.

Like most things in life, trick-or-treating isn’t for everybody.  It might not be to your taste.  If you aren’t Catholic, it might not be to your religion.  If you are Catholic but the feast-day vigil has, in your corner of the world, been culturally appropriated by nasty demon-worshipers, then maybe you need to refrain because local observances have lost all touch with the healthy festivities that other people are able to enjoy.  This year of all years, you might be sufficiently vulnerable, or insufficiently able to manage the logistics of the day, that you simply can’t make trick-or-treating safe enough for your personal situation.  So be it.

But, also, like most things in life, there are people for whom the negligible risks (especially after taking steps to mitigate those risks this year) are sufficiently outweighed by the benefits of an open-air communal observance of the arrival of one of the top-ten biggest holy days on the calendar.

Film poster from Buster Keaton's Haunted House,1921

Artwork: Film poster from Buster Keaton starring in The Haunted House, 1921, via Wikimedia, Public Domain


*I’m not going to touch the topic of teens trick-or-treating.  I can only generate so much outrage in one day before I hit my quota.  We’ll save that explosive topic for some other time.  Meanwhile, subject of this post: Your child needs to be accompanied when out wandering around at night.


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