Trick-or-treating not forbidden, but public health officials urge creativity instead

Not sure how to celebrate Halloween this year? Here's what three different local public health units are suggesting.

Scavenger hunts, movie nights and pumpkin decorating are preferable, one doctor says

Pumpkins endure last year's rain on Halloween in Montreal. This year, it's the pandemic – not the weather – that'll have the biggest impact on how people choose to celebrate. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Trick-or-treating isn't "forbidden," but medical officers of health across the region and in surrounding communities are offering advice for how to mark the occasion safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The primary recommendation from Dr. Hsui-Li Wang, the acting medical officer of health for Waterloo region, is that people only participate in essential activities.

"That said, I don't have the ability to enact, to proclaim, whether or not [people] can do Halloween or not," she said during Tuesday's media briefing. "For events such as Halloween, it is recommended that Waterloo region residents stick to low risk activities." 

Those activities, said Wang, could include pumpkin decorating within a household, hosting virtual costume parties, having a Halloween movie night, swapping scary stories or an outdoor scavenger hunt for candy in the backyard. 

For those who decide to go out trick-or-treating, Wang recommends only doing so with members of your immediate household, maintaining physical distance and wearing a face mask. A costume mask, she emphasized, is not good enough.

"A costume mask is not a substitute for a face covering and should not be worn over a face covering because that may make it difficult to breathe." 

Trick-or-treaters should be careful not to linger at door steps and should maintain distance from others if there's a line up for a particular home, Wang said. People who are handing out candy should not place it in a bowl for children to grab themselves, but should use tongs or a similar tool to hand it out, she said.

"Things could change .. from now until Halloween," Wang pointed out. "I might make stronger recommendations. But at this time, I'm asking people to consider lower risk activities only." 

Public health officials are urging people participate in lower risk activities on Halloween, but have some advice for those who chose to go trick-or-treating. (Shutterstock)

Not forbidden

Dr. Nicola Mercer, the medical officer of health with Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, told CBC News "trick-or-treating in and of itself is not forbidden." 

However, she's urging people to "be creative." 

"Maybe consider a different kind of Halloween ... how about a Halloween candy hunt in your home, especially for young children."

If people are going to hit the streets in search of treats, Mercer also says to go out only with members of your immediate household, to maintain physical distance and to incorporate a mask into your costume.

She's also recommending that residents handing out treats put them in individual bags and set them out, so people don't have to ring a doorbell. 

Treats not tricks

Huron Perth Public Health also said "trick-or-treating can be done in a safer manner." 

Along with the familiar recommendations to wear masks and maintain distance, a statement issued by the health unit recommends carrying hand sanitizer if planning to eat snacks on the go, avoid busy areas or indoor spaces (like malls), and people handing out treats should package them rather than offer treats in a shared bowl. 

"Use tongs, a baking sheet, or a candy slide to give more space when handing out candy," reads one suggestion. 

"If you're unable to sit outside to hand out treats, clean and disinfect doorbells and knobs, handrails and any other high touch surface often during the evening," said another. 

Huron Perth Public Health also has some things to keep in mind while decorating for occasion. 

"Avoid props that can cause coughing, such as smoke machine," the health unit said. "Stick to the treats, not tricks, such as screaming, startling, or chasing people."


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