Health officials assign level of COVID-19 risk to Halloween activities

A family participating in the Trick-or-Treat on 23rd Street event in 2019. (Photo by Mike Kinney)
A costumed girl enjoys the 3rd Annual Trick or Treat on 23rd Street in Richmond on Oct. 31, 2018.

Public health officials have been advising against traditional trick-or-treating for Halloween this year, as it carries a “high risk for spreading COVID-19.”

But not all types of trick-or-treating carry the same level of risk. For example, lining up individual goodie bags at the end of the driveway or yard that families can pick up can be safer than the usual handing out of treats on doorsteps, as long as everyone wears masks and maintains social distancing, according to Bay Area public health officials.

In a statement Monday, health officials regionally further clarified Halloween guidance by releasing a list of related activities considered lower risk (stay home, keep it small), moderate risk (if you must go), higher risk (please avoid), and very high risk (not permitted by state and local orders):

LOWER RISK: Stay home, keep it small

  • Celebrating Halloween traditions like carving pumpkins or a scavenger hunt-style trick-or-treat search with your household members in your home.
  • Visiting an outdoor pumpkin patch, while wearing a mask and maintaining distance from others.
  • Carving or decorating pumpkins outside, at least 6 feet apart while wearing masks, with a very small group of neighbors or friends. Fewer people with more distance is safer.
  • Having a virtual costume contest.
  • Dressing up your house, apartment, living space, yard or car with Halloween decoration or decorating homes with images and objects to honor deceased loved ones.
  • Preparing traditional family recipes with members of your household.
  • Playing music in your home that your deceased loved ones enjoyed.
  • Making and decorating masks or making an altar for the deceased.
  • Participating in vehicle-based gatherings that comply with state and local guidance like drive-in movies and drive-through attractions, or car/bike parades where participants do not leave their vehicles.
    • Avoid driving in areas where there are many pedestrians.
    • Spectators should watch from their homes or yards and not gather with people they do not live with.

MODERATE RISK: If you must

  • Participating in one-way trick-or-treating where individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up for families to grab and go while continuing to physically distance (such as at the end of a driveway or at the edge of a yard)
    • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 second before and after preparing the bags.
    • Ensure everyone is wearing an appropriate face covering and maintaining a physical distance from others.
    • Everyone participating should bring hand sanitizer and use it frequently AND wash their hands immediately after coming home.
    • Candy shouldn’t be eaten while outside the home because that would require both removing the face mask and touching wrappers.
  • Having a very small group, outdoor, open-air costume parade or movie night where people are distanced more than 6 feet apart and are wearing masks. Fewer people with more distance is safer.
  • Enjoying themed outdoor dining that complies with state and local guidance or takeout.

HIGHER RISK: Please avoid

  • Participating in traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go door-to-door. Although this activity is outdoors, it is higher risk because it brings multiple people from different households together.
  • Traveling to a rural fall festival that is not in your community if you live in an area with community spread of COVID-19. Doing so can bring COVID-19 into the area and threaten the residents’ lives.

VERY HIGH RISK: Not permitted by state and local orders

  • Attending a crowded party held indoors or outdoors. Large gatherings, even if they are outdoors, are high risk for spreading COVID-19 and are associated with many cases throughout the Bay Area.
  • Sharing, eating, drinking, speaking loudly or singing amongst others outside of your household.
  • Haunted houses or indoor mazes
  • Having trunk-or-treat where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots.