Oct 25, 2020 - Health

Halloween and COVID-19: What you need to know

Illustration of a jack-o-lantern wearing a medical mask

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Celebrating Halloween and Día de los Muertos will be difficult and more isolated this year, but can still be done while minimizing harm to others.

Why it matters: Traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating, indoor parties, haunted houses, crowded cemeteries and communal candy bowls are all considered high-risk activities by the CDC.

The big picture: Health officials are worried the convergence of colder weather and more holiday social gatherings will cause more coronavirus transmissions. Check local health department guidelines.

  • "The biggest risk is social gatherings with older teens and young adults for Halloween festivities ... I really would caution people against larger gatherings," said Emmanuel Walter Jr., chief medical officer at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute.

Trick-or-treating and "trunk-or-treating," where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots, should be done in small groups and outside, according to state health departments and epidemiologists.

  • Avoid children grabbing candy from communal bowls or sanitize their hands afterward. Also consider handing out treat bags instead.
  • A Halloween mask will not protect you from the virus.
  • Some health departments are recommending "candy chutes" and communities have gotten creative in theirs.

Día de los Muertos participants should avoid large, indoor celebrations with singing or chanting, said Viviana Martinez-Bianchi, associate professor of family medicine and community health at Duke Family Medical Center.

  • “If you’re going to go to the cemetery, do it, but keep that distance," she said.
  • She also advises parents to have children make decorate masks and make an altar in their homes with pillows and blankets for the deceased.
  • Families can gather virtually and trade recipes.

The bottom line: The public can still participate in their traditions this year, just in limited ways.

Go deeper