As children and families gear up for Halloween, local public health departments have guidance and suggestions on how to enjoy the spooky holiday while staying safe.
Angie Rhum, a public health nurse with Henry County Public Health, said traditional trick-or-treating is considered a high risk activity by the Iowa Department of Public Health. Rhum said families should remain diligent in following mitigation practices including good hand hygiene, social distancing especially when standing in front of houses to collect treats and wearing face masks.
“Regular trick-or-treating masks are not appropriate for COVID prevention,” she said.
“If possible, use a cloth face covering. If you use both, it may make breathing hard,” Rhum added.
The public health nurse said those considering attending a party should attempt to avoid large gatherings. For smaller gatherings, Rhum suggests meeting outside with face masks on and space for social distancing.
Rhum said the decision will ultimately be up to families but encouraged anyone who has felt sick or have possibly been exposed to the coronavirus to stay home and forgo any Halloween activities this year.
Washington County Public Health Director Danielle Pettit-Majewski said kids can still get dressed up and trick-or-treat with just a couple modifications. The public health director suggests families only go to houses of family members, friends and neighbors children already see on a regular basis and wiping down gift bags and candy before kids consume treats. These modifications would make the activity moderate risk rather than high risk.
For those passing out treats, Pettit-Majewski suggested creating prepackaged goody bags kids can take or handing candy directly to children to minimize the number of hands that touch a candy bowl.
For parents unsure of whether to go trick-or-treating, Pettit-Majewski said reaching out to providers who understand a child’s health needs the best would give parents the best idea of what is safest for their child.
Chris Estle, public health administrator for Jefferson County, said while trick-or-treating can be done in a way to mitigate potential exposure, public health does not endorse trunk-or-treat.
“There’s no way to social distance. It’s too many kids in a confined space,” she said.
Estle added that on top of heightened safety guidance, parents should also remember regular Halloween safety guidance. Estle said parents should always check treats before allowing children to consume anything and encourages parents to moderate how much sugar children consume. As a general rule, Estle said parents should avoid giving children homemade treats.
The public health administrator encouraged parents to help children practice good oral dental hygiene, especially after consuming treats.
The Iowa Department of Public Health has offered a list of low-, moderate- and high-risk activities as well as recommendations for limiting potential exposure to the coronavirus. High-risk activities include traditional trick-or-treating, attending trunk-or-treat events, attending crowded costume parties indoors and going to indoor haunted houses where people may be crowded together and screaming.
Moderate-risk activities include one-way trick-or-treating, having small gatherings outdoors, visiting pumpkin patches or orchards where mitigation tactics are practiced and having a socially distanced outdoor Halloween movie night.
Low-risk activities include carving pumpkins at home, decorating a living space, holding a virtual Halloween costume contest and having an in-home Halloween-themed scavenger hunt.
The department suggests families stay local and avoid visiting multiple towns on Halloween night and getting flu vaccinations as a general health and safety precaution.