The virus that causes COVID-19 sure is a party pooper. Large, popular Halloween events have been canceled this year in Billings and in other communities. Those cancellations were based on what scientists and medical experts know about how COVID-19 is spreading from person to person.
Reducing the risk of transmitting this highly contagious disease requires keeping your distance from people who don’t live with you. That critical distance between people will be difficult to maintain unless some traditional Halloween festivities are modified this year.
How can Montanans celebrate Halloween without increasing their risk of getting sick in this pandemic year?
There are low-risk Halloween activities, moderate risks and high risks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Knowing how to gauge risks of spreading COVID-19 will help parents and other prospective holiday hosts plan safer celebrations.
Lower risk activities
• Carve Jack-o’-lanterns or decorate pumpkins with people who live in your house. Display your squash art indoors or outdoors.
• Host a small group of friends or neighbors to carve Jack-o’-lanterns outdoors. Be sure that carving party guests maintain a distance of six feet from people they don’t live with.
• Go all out this year with frightful or cute Halloween decorations for your house or apartment.
• Give your children lists of Halloween-themed items and take them on a walk around your neighborhood to spot the things on the list. Check out your neighbors’ holiday decorations from a distance while enjoying the outdoors.
• Organize a virtual costume contest. Zoom with distant friends or relatives to show off your Halloween costumes.
• Plan a Halloween movie night with family favorite videos. Staying in is safer than going out.
• Instead of trick or treating do-to-door, plan an indoor hunt for treats. Hide the goodies around your house or apartment and let your children hunt for Halloween candy like they hunt for Easter eggs.
Higher risk activities
• Trick or treating door-to-door with treats handed out to children.
• Trunk or treat events where someone hands candy to children.
Unsafe activities during pandemic
• Large indoor parties.
• Haunted houses, especially if the house is crowded or there is screaming.
• Hayrides or tractor rides with people not in your household.
If you decide to dress up, try to find a costume that fits with your cloth face mask or choose a cloth face mask that can be part of your costume. Be careful with Halloween costume masks. Costume masks may not provide the risk-reducing barrier of cloth face masks. Wearing a costume mask over a cloth mask may make it hard to breath.
Any close contact with people outside your household increases risk of spreading the virus. The virus may be more easily transmitted indoors than outdoors. As you consider how to celebrate Halloween — or any other holiday this fall — plan how you will:
• Watch your distance.
• Wear a cloth mask.
• Wash your hands frequently.
As always, if you are ill, stay home. If family members are ill, keep them at home.
The risk of COVID-19 infection is serious in Yellowstone County. We can’t cut the risk to zero right now, but we can do a lot to reduce the spread by planning safer Halloween celebrations.
Shawn Hinz, vice president for Public Health Services at RiverStone Health, can be reached at 247-3365.
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