With Halloween around the corner, and families desperate for some degree of normalcy, trying to figure out what activities can be enjoyed safely has become important. Around the county, there will be drive-thru events, social-distanced events and many neighborhoods are going through with trick-or-treating with pandemic precautions. Figuring out which of those options is safe for your family can be tricky.

What the CDC says

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), many traditional Halloween activities can be high-risk for spreading viruses, and potential activities should be evaluated on a continuum of low, moderate and high risk.

Lower risk activities

  • Carving or decorating pumpkins with members of your household and displaying them.
  • Carving or decorating pumpkins outside, at a safe distance, with neighbors or friends.
  • Decorating your house, apartment or living space.
  • Doing a Halloween scavenger hunt where children are given lists of Halloween-themed things to look for while they walk outdoors from house to house admiring Halloween decorations at a distance.
  • Having a virtual Halloween costume contest.
  • Having a Halloween movie night with people you live with.
  • Having a scavenger hunt-style trick-or-treat search with your household members in or around your home rather than going house-to-house.

Moderate risk activities

  • Participating in one-way trick-or-treating where individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up for families to grab and go while continuing to social distance (such as at the end of a driveway or at the edge of a yard). If you are preparing goodie bags, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 second before and after preparing the bags.
  • Having a small-group, outdoor, open-air costume parade where people are distanced more than six feet apart.
  • Attending a costume party held outdoors where protective masks are used and people can remain more than six feet apart. A costume mask (such as for Halloween) is not a substitute for a cloth mask. A costume mask should not be used unless it is made of two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers the mouth and nose and doesn’t leave gaps around the face. Do not wear a costume mask over a protective cloth mask because it can be dangerous if the costume mask makes it hard to breathe. Instead, consider using a Halloween-themed cloth mask.
  • Going to an open-air, one-way, walk-through haunted forest where appropriate mask use is enforced, and people can remain more than 6 feet apart. If screaming will likely occur, greater distancing is advised. The greater the distance, the lower the risk of spreading a respiratory virus.
  • Visiting pumpkin patches or orchards where people use hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins or picking apples, wearing masks is encouraged or enforced and people are able to maintain social distancing.
  • Having an outdoor Halloween movie night with local family friends with people spaced at least six feet apart. If screaming will likely occur, greater distancing is advised. The greater the distance, the lower the risk of spreading a respiratory virus.

Higher risk activities

  • Participating in traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go door to door.
  • Having trunk-or-treat where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots.
  • Attending crowded costume parties held indoors.
  • Going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming.
  • Going on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household.
  • Using alcohol or drugs, which can cloud judgement and increase risky behaviors.
  • Traveling to a rural fall festival that is not in your community if you live in an area with community spread of COVID-19.


Sonoma County guidance

Locally, Sonoma County has issued its own guidance, based heavily on the CDC’s guidance.

“Traditional activities such as door-to-door trick or treating, business-to-business trick or treating and ‘trunk or treating’ are strongly discouraged this year due to the difficulty of maintaining proper social distancing and facial coverings, along with risks associated with touching high-contact surfaces such as doorbells and candy bowls,” said a statement from the county.

“Traditional activities … are strongly discouraged following state guidance,” said Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase in a press conference on Oct. 14. “We have a pretty solid recommendation not to (go trick or treating). As you might expect, parents or kids going door to door is a significantly increased risk to those not in your household. It is a very strong recommendation. We do not encourage it.”

Based on state and local rules, the following activities are not permitted in the county for Halloween: carnivals, festivals, live audience entertainment, indoor haunted houses, indoor gatherings and events or parties with non-household members.

Similarly, in accordance with state health guidance, outdoor gatherings are permitted if there are no more than 12 individuals, and no more than three households, and where people maintain at least six feet of distance with those not in their households, wear face coverings and practice hygiene standards. 

The county states that it encourages the following safe alternatives:

  • Online parties
  • Car parades
  • Drive-in movie nights
  • Halloween themed meals at outdoor restaurants 
  • Outdoor, drive-through haunted houses


Ideas for safer/distanced trick or treating

If you and your family feel the need to participate in trick or treating, then it is important to consider the options. What should not happen is kids receiving treats from the hand and/or in close proximity to persons not in their households, nor should mass candy receptacles be left out to have a variety of people coming in contact with the same candy and bowls.

Some ideas being offered nationally, include end-of-driveway treat tables where individually-wrapped goody bags are available for grab and go, “treat chutes” where candy can be slid down a pipe to waiting kid’s treat bags and even a remote control drone disguised as a ghost with a basket of treats.

The key thing, however, would be that each treat is individually wrapped and that the giver practiced excellent and careful hygiene practices (hand washing, sanitizing, etc.) for each set of treats. In other words, for the second and third ideas above would require the giver to use hand sanitizer and other hygiene practices between each piece of candy.

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