A coronavirus Halloween has some parents spooked. Here’s how to keep it safe

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Expert advice for families on saving Thanksgiving, Halloween 2020'
Coronavirus: Expert advice for families on saving Thanksgiving, Halloween 2020
WATCH: Expert advice for families on saving Thanksgiving, Halloween 2020 – Oct 1, 2020

For Jodie Katz, a Toronto-area mother of two, plans for Halloween were in the works back in September.

There will be a candy scavenger hunt in her backyard, pumpkin decorating and a piñata filled with kosher-friendly candy to share with some of her seven-year-old son’s school cohort.

The one thing still undecided: trick-or-treating.

“Things change literally every five minutes, so you have to be on your toes,” she told Global News.

“When I look at the concept of Halloween, I can’t see why it’s not possible to do safely. Unless there’s a ban on trick-or-treating, we’ll do it, but I have to plan in case we don’t.”

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Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, Halloween is bound to look a little different. But as cases continue to creep up in much of Canada, many parents are wrestling with how to carry on the tradition while keeping safety top of mind.

Katz has already envisioned the potential for swarms of kids on neighbourhood streets.

“If I see a glut of people, my kids will have to stand back and wait,” she said. “I’m hoping that the houses that do allow for trick-or-treaters also do some policing to avoid that.”

How risky is it?

Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious diseases physician at Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont., said trick-or-treating is a “relatively safe thing,” but there are things for parents to consider.

For one: “stick to your household.”

Click to play video: 'Halloween can still be celebrated safely as long as public health recommendations are followed'
Halloween can still be celebrated safely as long as public health recommendations are followed

The outdoor element helps mitigate risk, he said, and the door-to-door visiting “takes all of 30 seconds,” but the fewer close contacts you have, the better.

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“You also need to be aware of what’s happening in your community. In a situation like Canada’s right now, where we’re in a partial restriction, I think it’s reasonable to do safely,” he said.

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“But no one should be shamed for their risk tolerance.”

So far, Halloween isn’t facing any cancellations in Canada, just amendments.

Alberta has given the event a green light, so long as trick-or-treaters follow a set of recommendations, including yelling “trick-or-treat” two metres away from the front door instead of using the doorbell. Quebec and B.C. also approved Halloween this week, emphasizing that activities should stay outdoors and amongst those who live in the same household. In New Brunswick, what you can do on Halloween depends on the region you live in.

In Ontario, where cases continue to soar, Premier Doug Ford was sterner, saying he’d prefer parents not take their kids door to door as the province struggles to keep the virus under control.

Each province and region can ultimately make its own rules about the holiday, but even Canada’s top doctor said trick-or-treating could proceed, so long as kids and parents follow physical distancing and other safety protocols.

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“There are ways to actually manage this,” said Theresa Tam.

Still, trick-or-treating doesn’t appear to be on the agenda for many.

A recent poll found that 52 per cent of parents don’t plan on allowing their kids to participate. It was particularly so in Ontario and Quebec, with two-thirds of respondents from the hard-hit provinces putting trick-or-treating on hold.

Miriam Goodger-Dos Anjos is one of them. The Aurora, Ont., mom and her two kids will take the fun indoors.

Click to play video: 'BC Centre for Disease Control releases guidelines for safe Halloween'
BC Centre for Disease Control releases guidelines for safe Halloween

The candies will be hidden under couches and in living room corners, there will be costumes and pumpkin carving and — since Halloween falls on a Saturday night, after all — the night will end with pizza and a movie.

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Halloween is not Halloween without decor. So, those giant inflatable pumpkins and ghosts that often billow on front lawns this time of year? Goodger-Dos Anjos is bringing them inside.

“They will be in my living room,” she said. “We actually are very excited.”

The decision wasn’t a difficult one for Goodger-Dos Anjos to make. Her seven-year-old son has Type 1 diabetes, so the family has been adamant about their bubble and outings. Groceries have been purchased exclusively online since March.

“Type 1 diabetes doesn’t mean he will catch COVID easier, however, the complications of COVID could be life-threatening to him,” she said.

“I feel that physical distancing and control will be an issue with so many excited kids. How can parents ensure other parents are taking the same precautions?”

Things to consider

Experts agree trick-or-treating is a fair concern, but are divided on other aspects of the tradition.

“I’m not worried at all about coronavirus passing from candy. The virus is not transmitted in this way outside of a health-care setting,” Chakrabarti said. “So do the candy just as you would before — just don’t eat it all in one night.”

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Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, plans on doing otherwise.

“I would keep the candy in a relatively warm place for a day. The virus can technically survive on surfaces for a long time, but it is heat dependent. So if you’re worried, you could warm it up a tad,” he said.

“But the candy still isn’t going to be hugely risky. It comes from the store to a person who bought it and then it’s dumped into a bowl. There will likely be minimal touch overall.”

Click to play video: 'Should we cancel Halloween? Your COVID-19 questions answered'
Should we cancel Halloween? Your COVID-19 questions answered

But homeowners concerned about contracting the virus from kids at their front doors should also be thinking ahead, the experts agree.

“Wearing a mask is obviously quite reasonable,” said Chakrabarti. “You also don’t want to be having a long conversation at the door.”

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Some people have gotten innovative, he said, using tongs to drop mini chocolate bars in Halloween buckets or placing them in bowls on front lawns surrounded by spooky decor.

“The kids go get their candy and get the heck out of there to see what you gave them, right?” Chakrabarti said with a laugh.

At the end of the day, “people need to decide what their level of comfort is,” said Furness.

“If it’s a household with concerns, where they’re anxious, maybe this is the year to turn out the lights.”

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