Emily Austin’s kids have been asking about Halloween for months.

“We get their costumes in August,” said the Duluth mom of three and owner of Once Upon a Child.

While Austin and her husband, Zach, haven’t talked to their sons, ages 6, 8, and 10, about whether they’re trick-or-treating this year, they have directed their attention to what they are doing: pumpkin-carving, costumes and decorations.

Emily and Zach Austin of Duluth in 2019's Halloween costumes: Bob Ross and a painting. For this year's Halloween festivities, the Austins and their three children will focus on costumes, decorating and pumpkin-carving, lower-risk activities with COVID-19. (Submitted photo)
Emily and Zach Austin of Duluth in 2019's Halloween costumes: Bob Ross and a painting. For this year's Halloween festivities, the Austins and their three children will focus on costumes, decorating and pumpkin-carving, lower-risk activities with COVID-19. (Submitted photo)

Due to COVID-19, some of the holiday’s traditions — trick-or-treating, haunted houses, costume parties — come with a higher risk of spreading the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But Halloween can still be fun and festive.

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The CDC released guidelines to celebrating Halloween. Among them: throw a virtual costume contest, host a Halloween movie night or conduct an outdoor scavenger hunt where kids locate things around the neighborhood.

Regardless of what parents or caregivers decide to do, it’s important to keep general coronavirus precautions in mind, said Dr. Razaan Byrne, a pediatrician at Children’s Minnesota.

Dr. Razaan Byrne
Dr. Razaan Byrne

Maintain physical distancing; wear masks; wash or sanitize hands frequently, and avoid traditional indoor activities like haunted houses or parties with large groups. That’s increasing the likelihood of exposure, she said.

And, avoiding higher-risk gatherings could keep numbers down.

Communities across the country, in Los Angeles, North Carolina and New York, saw a spike in COVID-19 cases after July 4.

State departments recognized there were some individuals who were not necessarily practicing CDC guidelines, Bryne said.

Keep the pandemic in mind when picking a costume.

A costume mask is no substitute for a cloth or surgical facemask. Consider a breathable Halloween-themed, cloth mask made up of two or more layers that covers the mouth and nose and leaves no gaps. For kids, you may want to avoid a costume mask altogether because the double barrier may lead to difficulty breathing, she said.

And while the CDC lists attending a one-way, outdoor haunted forest as a moderate risk activity with a facemask and social distancing, there is an increased risk if people are screaming.

Breathing normally or talking in a typical tone of voice, our lungs expel particles in the air that can spread several feet away. When you increase the pressure in the chest, by singing, chanting or screaming, it can increase the risk of having potential virus particles expelled into the air, Byrne said.

And when it comes to traditional candy-giving, that could be tricky this year.

If you want to participate this way, consider individually wrapping candy and spacing it out at the end of the driveway or the edge of a yard. Also, sanitize or wash your hands for 20 seconds before handling candy.

Joanne Coffin-Langdon
Joanne Coffin-Langdon

Joanne Coffin-Langdon plans to hand out candy, but hers will have been quarantined for two weeks.

The children and family minister at First United Methodist Church spun the church’s annual trunk-or-treat event into a Halloween drive-thru.

From 4-6 p.m. on Oct. 31, people will remain in their cars, and designated volunteers wearing face masks and gloves will line up and hand out sweets.

“We feel this activity is definitely in the low-risk area,” Coffin-Langdon said. “And hopefully we’ll get some honking.”

Coffin-Langdon reached out to other religious institutions, and during an interview with the News Tribune, there were five involved so far.

Halloween is a big deal at the Coffin-Langdon house. She and her wife, Cynthia Coffin-Langdon, have six kids, ages 6-16, so they wanted an event that could involve the family and offer a treat to the community.

Emily and Zach Austin's children (from left) Hayden, 10; Grayson, 6; and Kellen, 8, in last year's Halloween costume. The three kids have been asking about Halloween plans since school started, said Emily Austin. With COVID-19, the family will focus on lower-risk activities this year. (Submitted photo)
Emily and Zach Austin's children (from left) Hayden, 10; Grayson, 6; and Kellen, 8, in last year's Halloween costume. The three kids have been asking about Halloween plans since school started, said Emily Austin. With COVID-19, the family will focus on lower-risk activities this year. (Submitted photo)

COVID-19 hasn’t affected Emily Austin’s kids’ enthusiasm for the holiday. It’s still something to look forward to.

On Halloween night, they’re considering gathering with the family they’ve been quarantining with for a meal, or choosing five neighbors with whom to exchange candy.

Children’s attitudes often stem from the parents, and Halloween doesn’t have to be defined by going to parties and “knocking on 100 doors of people we don’t know,” Austin said.

It’s defined by how we all dress up, the fun food, decorations.

At Bryne’s house, they’re planning an egg-hunt-style night of trick-or-treating: searching for hidden candy at home, along with a Zoom costume contest with their cousins.

Parents may be mourning the traditions they expect to have, but consider starting a new tradition this year, Byrne said, adding: “Children are resilient.”

Halloween

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines to celebrate Halloween during a global pandemic. Some traditions can be risky for spreading COVID-19 — even regarding costumes.

Lower-risk activities

  • Carve or decorate pumpkins with members of your household or, at a safe distance, with neighbors or friends.

  • Decorate your living space.

  • Prepare a Halloween scavenger hunt, or a scavenger-hunt-style trick-or-treat search inside or outside the house.

  • Throw a virtual Halloween costume contest.

  • Host a Halloween movie night with people you live with.

Moderate-risk activities

  • One-way trick-or-treating where individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up for families to grab at a safe distance (end of driveway, edge of yard).

  • Conduct an outdoor costume parade or costume party, maintaining facemasks and distancing.

  • Visit an open-air, one-way, walk-through haunted forest or pumpkin patch, where CDC guidelines are enforced.

  • Host an outdoor Halloween movie night with people spaced at least 6 feet apart. A greater distance is advised if screaming will occur.

Higher-risk activities

Avoid these higher risk activities to help prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Traditional trick-or-treating where children go door to door, or trunk-or-treating where candy is handed out from car trunks lined in parking lots.

  • Indoor costume parties, haunted houses or hayrides with people who are not in your household.

  • Using alcohol or drugs, which can increase risky behaviors.

Source: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

If you go

What: Halloween Alternative, local churches offer drive-by trick-or-treating option

When: 4-6 p.m. Oct. 31

Where: First United Methodist Church, 230 E. Skyline Pkwy;

Hillside United Methodist Church, 1801 Piedmont Ave.;

Hope United Methodist Church, 301 W. St. Marie St.;

Faith United Methodist Church, 1531 Hughitt Ave., Superior;

Forbes United Methodist Church, 33 Grove St., Proctor

More info: Email families@fumcduluth.com