The Oklahoma State Department of Health released today its guidance for people planning for Halloween and other fall festivities this holiday season as some traditional celebrations do not allow for proper social distancing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are a multitude of ways people can safely enjoy the holiday season this year, and connect with loved ones without putting anyone in unnecessary risk,” said Dr. Lance Frye, Oklahoma Commissioner of Health. “Celebrate, but celebrate wisely, and continue following the three W’s: wear a mask, wash your hands, and watch your distance.”
Celebrating virtually or with members of your own household poses low risk for spread and is encouraged. If you have COVID-19 – or think you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 – you should not participate in in-person Halloween or fall festivities and should not give out candy to trick-or-treaters.
Guidance for those who plan to celebrate Halloween includes: avoid crowded parties and indoor haunted houses; group activities should be limited to fewer than 10 people; trick-or-treating should be done in outdoor environments only; and a costume mask is not an acceptable substitute for a cloth mask.
For those who wish to hand out Halloween candy to trick-or-treaters, consider preparing individual goodie bags for touch-free, grab-and-go trick-or-treating.
In-person gatherings with people outside your household pose varying levels of risk. Event organizers and attendees should consider the risk of virus spread based on event size and use of mitigation strategies, as outlined in CDC guidance on Considerations for Events and Gatherings.
For those planning to host a holiday celebration, you should assess current COVID-19 alert levels in your community to determine whether to postpone, cancel, or limit the number of attendees. County specific information can be found online: https://coronavirus.health.ok.gov/covid-19-alert-system.
School-sponsored Halloween activities should be held outdoor and staggered by grade.
Safer Halloween activities for people to consider include:
Pumpkin carving or decorating outside with members of your household.
Decorating your house, apartment, or living space.
Organizing 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.
Hosting a virtual Halloween costume contest.
Halloween movie night with members of your household.
A full list of Halloween guidance is available on the coronavirus.health.ok.gov dashboard in the Resources and Recommendations section.
It’s rare, but sometimes sweet treats can turn bad. Discoloration, tears in wrappers and tiny pinholes are signs that candy has been tampered with, said Janice Hermann, Oklahoma State University Extension nutrition specialist.
“Tell your children not to accept or eat anything that is not commercially wrapped,” Hermann said. “Inspect candy when returning home and throw away anything that looks suspicious.”
Another reason to examine candy closely is to avoid allergic reactions. Home-baked goods should be avoided because of the unknown ingredient factor, Hermann said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that more than half of all children’s choking episodes are caused by food. It is important to know how to prevent and respond to choking episodes, said Laura Hubbs-Tait, OSU Extension parenting specialist.
“Hard or sticky candy, chewing gum, popcorn and nuts are foods parents should keep away from children under the age of 4,” Hubbs-Tait said. “Non-candy treats like grapes, peanut butter, raw vegetables, meat or cheese, and hot dogs can also be a choking hazard.”
Removing small objects and candy from younger children can prevent choking, Hubbs-Tait said. Don’t let children run with food in their mouths.
Parents should discuss a house-to-house plan with older children they trust to go trick-or-treating with friends, Hubbs-Tait said. Drawing out a map is a good idea. Expect phone updates.
“The most common injuries to children on Halloween occur when they are pedestrians,” Hubbs-Tait said. “Motorists cannot easily see young trick-or-treaters at night, making it very dangerous. Never assume that all cars will stop in time. Just because the first car stops doesn’t mean the next driver will also be paying attention.”
Other parental tips include:
• Put reflective tape on costumes and trick-or-treat bags.
Use sidewalks whenever possible, and only on well-lit streets. When sidewalks are absent, stick to the far edge of the street and face oncoming traffic.
Never cut across yards or use alleys.
Wearing a protective face mask is strongly advised to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, even while trick-or-treating, said Barbara Brown, OSU Extension food specialist. However, a costume mask is not designed to serve the same purpose.
If a holiday face covering is absolutely necessary, creativity is called for.
“Wearing a costume mask on top of a healthcare face mask can be dangerous, decreasing the ability to breathe or see,” Brown said. “Instead masks should be incorporated into costumes by using fabric paint, markers or embroidery as decoration.”
To reduce the risk of virus transmission on candy wrappers, Brown suggested handwashing before putting treats into individual bags, as well as after unwrapping candy and before consumption. In short, go into safety overdrive, she said.
For all the other concerns layered on Halloween this year, it’s easy to forget about one of the most fundamental health issues, Hermann said.
“Treats can fit into a healthy diet, but they need to be kept in moderation,” Hermann said. “Discussing the importance of nutrition with your children beforehand is the best prevention.”
Having a meal or snacking before trick-or-treating can help children control their urges later in the evening, she said. Some people hand out healthier alternatives such as raisins, popcorn, sugar-free gum, pretzels, sunflower seeds, animal crackers and sugar-free hot chocolate packets. Common non-food treats include toothbrushes, pencils, stickers, toys, glowsticks and bubbles.
Parents should set limits, she said.
“Consider giving children a day or two to enjoy their Halloween candy,” Hermann said. “Let them pick out what they want in appropriate serving sizes and freeze the rest.”
Frozen candy can also used for baking later in the holiday season, Hermann said. Peanut butter cups, M&M’s, Snickers, Heath Bars and peppermints come in handy.
The Center of Disease Control and Prevention provides additional information on safe Halloween celebration.