Trick-or-Treating: What to Know Before You Go on Halloween

Sarah Liston's children had a great time dressing up last Halloween. Contributed photo.

By Amie Knowles
October 29, 2020

It’s possible to have a safe Halloween, even if it’s not ultra traditional.

CHESAPEAKE – On Saturday, vampires, princesses, train conductors, dinosaurs and a myriad of other characters will walk the streets of Virginia, each on the same mission. Procure candy, sort it out at home and eat as much as they can before bedtime. Yep, it’s Halloween.

Some people are rather skeptical about the holiday this year, even more so than usual. First, it’s 2020 – and so far, not much has gone right. Second, there’s a full moon, which adds to the superstitious spook of the night. Third, hello, COVID-19.

With a year of more tricks than treats, many parents and children are looking forward to a bit of normalcy on the last day of the month. However, others are skipping some of the traditions this year and opting for a socially distanced celebration.

What the experts say

The Virginia Department of Health listed safety guidelines concerning Halloween.

Of course, the safest option is to not go trick-or-treating at all. Going to many houses in different neighborhoods is high-risk, according to the VDH. As is trick-or-treating or partying without social distancing and mask wearing, going on hayrides or tractor rides with people outside of a single household and going to indoor haunted houses with screaming and without social distancing.

Moderate risk activities include trick-or-treating with distancing strategies, preparing goodie bags after hand washing, stopping only at houses with participants wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, attending small outdoor events and visiting pumpkin patches or orchards with masks and social distancing in place.

Activities at the lowest COVID contracting risk include carving or decorating pumpkins with members of one household, or socially distanced with friends, or doing an outdoor Halloween scavenger hunt. Other ideas include watching Halloween movies, having a virtual costume contest and trick-or-treating in one’s own house with family members.

Kelsey Griffin’s son Bodie portrays a tarantula. Contributed photo.

Local guidelines

Local officials also pushed for additional precautions when trick-or-treating. In Chesapeake, an entire page of the city’s website devotes space to those looking for safe trick-or-treating options.

There are four suggestions for those wanting to trick-or treat. First, wear a cloth mask. Even if a child has a mask as part of their costume, plastic masks don’t fit snugly and do little to prevent viral germs. Second, wash hands before and after trick-or-treating and use antibacterial between each stop. Third, go with only household members and take turns – don’t rush up to houses with several children already at the doorstep, and maintain six feet of distance between other participants. Fourth, if someone in the household feels sick, don’t go trick-or-treating.

There are also four guidelines for those who want to give out candy. One, wear a cloth mask. Two, wash hands frequently throughout the event. Three, avoid having trick-or-treaters come to the door; instead, set up a bowl with candy outside or spread out candy on an outdoor table. Four, if anyone in the household is sick, don’t pass out candy.

Heath Covey, the City of Chesapeake’s director of public communications, expected fewer families in his area venturing out this year.

“I think it’s going to make people a lot more leery about going out. [I] think that, if I had to guess, I think it’s probably going to be less trick-or-treaters, less of the traditional trick-or-treating, as parents make the decisions for their families on how they want to be safe,” Covey said. “I think it’ll probably lessen the number.”

Parents in action

Parents across Virginia voiced several different options about what their Halloween plans entail this year.

Christina Scarce plans to have a traditional holiday with her family.

“We’re going trick-or-treating. Period. We will wash our hands and do what we normally would anyways, which includes not eating homemade treats and only prepackaged items,” Scarce said. “We had COVID. With the full understanding of how immunology works, I am no longer concerned and only take precautions as a courtesy to others. My kids aren’t required to wear a mask anyways, so we won’t have to do anything differently to walk around outside.”

Senovia Griffin said her son will wear a masked Halloween costume.

Other parents will take their kids trick-or-treating to select locations. Sarah Thomason’s mother will take her son to family’s houses early in the day. Kathryn Forney will take her son trick-or-treating to homes of people she knows.

Kelsey Griffin will take her boys out, but to people they see often.

“We are going to the homes of family that we see on a regular basis,” Kelsey said. “They would dress up and get candy 100% either way. Seeing our family members is the priority for us every year anyway.”

Julia Hollandsworth planed out a socially distanced holiday for her son, including pictures with a local photographer for a charity event.

“You know I love Halloween. We are going to trick-or-treat to a few select houses, family, still wearing masks and such with costumes,” Hollandsworth said. “We also bought candy and will be packaging it into little bags and having a Halloween scavenger hunt in our yard – with a yard full of decorations, of course.”

Sarah Liston went to a family Halloween party with her children on Monday. On Saturday, she plans to take her kids trick-or-treating at family’s homes.

Other plans

Carole-Anne Penn and her daughter hit the candy circuit early, participating in drive-thru events this month.

“In the past week, we have attended two trunk or treats put on by local churches. We have a home school co-op that celebrated with a Halloween party outdoors,” Penn said. “This Saturday, we are planning on masking up for a larger event in Bassett.”

Amanda Orrell also plans to take her daughter to a drive-thru trick-or-treating event.

Christina Mitchell planned a hybrid evening for her family.

“We’re looking at making bags of candy for anyone who wants a no-contact candy pickup, and [going to] have a family night in with movies, candy and get some décor from the dollar store for James to have a fun Halloween,” Mitchell said. “And possibly drive around to look for other houses with decorations. And we will still wear costumes for fun and probably order takeout.”

Brandy Lawless also planned a fun, socially distanced evening. The family will trick-or-treat at family’s houses, and then return home for s’mores and pumpkin decorating in the garage.

Stephanie Childress looked forward to a tradition she’s done for the past few years.

“What we do for Halloween is we go to our pastor’s house and have a bonfire and we roast marshmallows. We have this huge meal brought by all who come. [We] drink hot chocolate and the best part is the fellowship around the warm fire,” Childress said. “We also go for a hayride all around the property, in the dark. [We] look forward to this every year. The boys love this.”

No matter how kids celebrate, many parents are taking precautions. Casey Hazelwood said that in addition to her son getting candy at daycare, she plans to clean any candy wrappers he receives over the weekend.

Michelle Nance (left) and her son, Roland, went as Owen and Blue from Jurassic World last Halloween. Contributed photo.

Staying home

Some families chose not to go out, but rather have a special night in with their kids.

“We’re making snacks and doing a scavenger hunt with candy,” Kelly Fanin said.

Michelle Nance also plans on hunkering down. This year, she’s bringing back a Halloween tradition from her childhood.

“We aren’t trick-or-treating this year. I didn’t go trick-or-treating when I was a kid. My dad started a tradition where on Halloween, he took me to the store and we picked out a couple bags of candy and I picked a movie. We would go home and watch the movie and eat candy. It was always a lot of fun and something I really looked forward to,” Nance said. “So I figure this year is a good year to introduce that tradition to Roland. He is only five, but understands that this virus is dangerous and we don’t need to engage in high risk activities. I think he’s excited about his movie marathon too.”

Do what works best

No matter which way a family celebrates the holiday, what matters most is that it works for them and public health.

If parents feel uncomfortable trick-or-treating this year, it’s okay to come up with a fun, new tradition.

“Parents have the final say. I’m a parent. I don’t have young children, but I think everybody wants to do what they believe is in the best interest of their family,” Covey said. “So if they are uncomfortable going out, there’s lots of things you can do as a family at home. You know, activities, that sort of thing, to mark the holiday. But I think parents absolutely should do what they think is in the best interest of their children.”

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. She can be reached at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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