Is it okay to trick-or-treat during a pandemic? What about your favorite fall festivals or a costume party? If you’re like a lot of parents around the country, you’re probably wondering what autumn activities are considered safe in light of COVID-19.
LinnieLou spoke with Dr. Amber Schmidtke–a medical microbiologist, immunologist, and mom of two to find some answers.
Dr. Schmidtke has worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and several Universities where she taught at both the undergraduate and graduate level.
Keep reading to get her take on how to keep yourself, your kids, and your community healthy while still having fun this fall.
COVID-19 Prevention for Kids
First, let’s talk about prevention.
Dr. Schmidtke said the recommended prevention strategies are designed to work together.
“We don’t have any one perfect protection strategy, so the tools we do have are meant to be used in combination to provide the best protection,” she said. “Consider the people you live with to all share the same risk. When you add interactions with people outside of your household, you add risks to everyone inside your household.”
She offered these guidelines for parents of young kids:
- Anyone over the age of 2 should wear a mask when they interact with people they don’t live with.
- If an indoor activity would require you to remove your mask, then don’t do that activity (this includes eating).
- Maintain a 6-plus foot distance when interacting with anyone who lives outside of your household.
- Observe excellent hand hygiene, washing your hands for the equivalent of two rounds of the song, “Happy Birthday.” Many households have a “no shoe” custom. Make it a custom in your home that anyone who enters should wash their hands when they arrive.
- Avoid crowds and indoor gatherings.
“Again, these strategies are meant to be used in combination,” she said. “My top priorities are wearing a mask and keeping a 6-plus foot perimeter between members of my family and people from outside of our household.”
She also pointed out that while children under two should not wear masks, that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of contracting–or spreading–COVID-19.
“That recommendation is in place because of the breathing and choking hazards that a mask might present to toddlers and infants,” she said.
Is Trick or Treating Safe?
The CDC announced recently that traditional trick or treating is considered a high-risk activity when it comes to the spread of the coronavirus.
“I think it has to do with the close encounters and the crowds of people that interact during Halloween festivities,” Dr. Schmidtke said. “After months of trying to limit your interactions to a select group of people, a traditional trick or treat sort of explodes your exposure risks. In addition, it would really make contact tracing an enormous challenge if someone does get sick after trick or treating.”
She said a safer alternative to traditional trick or treating could include:
- Creating one-way traffic in your neighborhood
- Making a candy delivery chute using PVC pipe or other creative distribution methods that allow for social distancing
- Making pre-made goodie bags that children can pick up rather than handing them candy directly
Dr. Schmidtke created a Halloween photo scavenger hunt for families looking for an alternative to trick or treating:
Lastly, Dr. Schmidtke said if you have a high-risk family member at home, avoid trick-or-treating altogether.
How to Have Fun This Fall
While the country is experiencing a fall like no other, there are ways to have fun and stay healthy this season!
Dr. Schmidtke said apple picking, farmer’s markets, pumpkin carving contests, and outdoor concerts/movies are low-risk if social distancing and mask protocols are enforced.
However, take note: “If the event is likely to cause yelling, shouting or screaming, then 10-12 feet of distance between family units is recommended,” she said.
Corn mazes, fall festivals, and pumpkin patches are considered moderate risk. She advised families enjoy these activities during the week when crowds are typically at their lowest levels.
Lastly, she said the following fall activities are considered high risk and should be avoided:
- Crowded hay rides
- Indoor parties
- Crowded, (outdoor or indoor) sporting events
Dr. Schmidtke said while the prevention protocols are restrictive, parents should view them as an opportunity to create traditions.
“There are a lot of things that just can’t be normal right now and it really stinks. I wish things were different or that we had faster solutions to this pandemic,” she said. “In lieu of that, I think this is an opportunity to create new traditions and ways of celebrating holidays with our families.”
To Sum It Up
While this fall is different to say the least, there are ways families can still have fun and make memories this autumn.
- Remember to wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet away from individuals who do not live in your household.
- While trick or treating is considered to be a high-risk activity, there are still ways to participate in this traditional Halloween activity.
- Consider making individual goodie bags for kids to pick up; create one-way traffic for trick-or-treaters in your neighborhood; and make a candy delivery shoot from PVC pipe.
- Apple picking, farmer’s markets, pumpkin carving contests, and outdoor concerts/movies are low-risk if social distancing protocols are enforced.
Dr. Schmidtke left us with this reminder: “Remember that our children are living through history right now, painful as it may be. As much as we want to get back to normal, we can’t ignore this pandemic and instead I think it might be better to acknowledge the ways that this pandemic has made us care for our loved ones and our communities,” she said. “We wear masks and avoid social interactions because we care about others. I can’t think of a better lesson for our kids to learn right now.”
Dr. Schmidtke is the creator and host of the Public Health for the People podcast, which focuses on how the pandemic has trended in Georgia; new episodes are released weekly and include trending public health topics.
Each week, Dr. Schmidtke provides COVID-19 updates for residents of both Georgia and Kansas. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter, and you can subscribe to her podcast for COVID-19 and public health related news and updates.