Trick or treating is normally an easy decision for parents. Free candy? What’s not to like?
But this year, aside from the typical ghosts and ghouls known to haunt familiar stomping grounds on October 31, the concerns of many parents center on the novel coronavirus.
Is it safe to go door to door? Should kids wear masks? What about candy? Should we put it in plastic baggies? How do you ensure kids are disinfecting their hands between houses? Or is it better, and just plain easier, to keep the kids home, turn off the lights and wait for next year?
The Kansas Department of Health of Environment’s guidelines for celebrating Halloween are quite clear. They do not recommend door to door trick or treating, stating that it “is very difficult to maintain proper social distancing on porches and at front doors, ensure everyone is properly wearing face coverings, and because food sharing is risky.”
That said, it’s hard to believe Halloween can simply be called off. Surely some young sugar-fiend will ring your doorbell, or a rebellious teen will escape out the backdoor with friends while “Beetlejuice” is on. Then what?
Kelly Eccles, a nurse practitioner at Iola’s Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, sympathizes with parents’ conundrum.
“As a parent myself, I don’t want to change our entire lives around just for Halloween,” said Eccles. “But at the same time, I want my kids to be safe, and I want my kids’ friends to be safe, too.”
This year, Eccles will be modifying their family’s Halloween festivities, visiting family and close friends only. “My kids are great at wearing masks, and we have hand sanitizer we’ll utilize on our adventures. We’ll also paint pumpkins and attempt some new arts and crafts activities. My kids are at an age that they love crafts. Anything that requires glue and scissors is always a hit.”
Eccles, who works in family medicine, recommends families “make a choice they are comfortable with. Use the guidelines set forth by the CDC: Stay outside, social distance, wear a mask and bring hand sanitizer.”
Instead of trick or treating, the KDHE recommends families spend extra time this year decorating their homes, and participate in car parades, scavenger hunts, or online Halloween parties with friends and family. Eccles also suggested parents in search of alternatives check out Pinterest, which “is full of fun alternatives for kids to do at home.”
Rebecca Johnson, the director of SEK Multi-County Health Departments, said that the organization is also recommending parents follow KDHE’s guidance and refrain from trick or treating this year.
Amie VanNice and Jeremy Gomez of Iola have three children, Mariah, 16, Dominiq, 8, and Asher, 2. While Mariah is “too cool for trick or treating,” Halloween is still something special for Dominiq, said VanNice.
This year, her family’s plan “is to still take the two boys out trick or treating, but we’re just going to Trunk and Treats and visiting family. We’re not going to stop at every house down the street.”
“It’s close to what we do every year,” VanNice explained, “but this time we have a COVID-19 outbreak in our neighborhood, so we’re trying to steer clear of extra risks.”
For Amie and Jeremy, that means masking up and using lots of hand sanitizer. “Dominiq has a mask, but Asher is too little for it to make sense. Dominiq doesn’t mind; he is happy just to go trick or treating.”
Dizera Benham and husband Jake are also getting ready for Halloween with their daughter, Haley, 4, and their son Ethan, 3 months.
“We’re doing our normal thing for Halloween this year,” said Benham. “We always take our kids to family and friends and go to the Trunk or Treats.”
“My husband and I believe our kids have already missed out on enough this year,” she continued. “Halloween is my daughter’s favorite holiday. She’s been talking about Halloween since April.” Haley’s more than ready to show off her Elsa costume.
“We’re worried about COVID, but you can be cautious and still live your life. My husband I will likely wear masks, and Haley is great with her mask,” reflects Benham.
Alisha Rutherford, Iola, feels similarly. Her family is still planning on having their Halloween party, a family tradition, and she still intends to take her children trick or treating. “We always have a Halloween party with family and friends, but we also plan to go trick or treating.”
“We’ll go to the Trunk or Treats,” says Rutherford, “but I feel the drive-through ones are a little silly. We’ll visit the houses of family and friends, too.”
While the pandemic is something that concerns Rutherford, she’s determined to make this Halloween as normal as possible. “There’s no reason to put my life on hold because of this. I’m not going to have my kid lose out on their opportunity to trick or treat when they’re young because of this illness.”
Iola’s 2020 Trunk or Treat, sponsored by The Iola Area Chamber of Commerce, will likely be a popular destination, even more so with many families leery of visiting multiple homes. The Chamber will implement several measures to make sure the event is as safe as possible, requesting all attendees wear a mask; gloves will also be distributed. Cars will be spaced 2-3 spots apart from each other, and all snacks and candy must be pre-packaged.
For Jill Hartman, director of the Chamber, the decision to host this year’s event came down to “trying to make things as normal as possible” for people. “Our hope is that by hosting a centralized event like this, and making it as safe as possible for families, we provide a safe opportunity for families and kids.”
Hartman’s comments echo the advice Eccles would offer: “Follow the guidelines, wear a mask, and stay within the bounds of each family’s comfort levels.” Because until things get back to normal — whenever that is and whatever it looks like — there’s no sense in making Halloween anything but scary, but just for all the right reasons.