Skip to main content
Move the World.
halloween during COVID-19

Lead Image © Christine Glade / Adobe Stock

Americans are about to experience their first Halloween during COVID-19, but it won't be the first time a pandemic has cast a shadow over the spooky holiday stateside — the Spanish flu pandemic was in full swing on October 31, 1918.

That didn't stop some people from celebrating the holiday, though, and the coronavirus pandemic doesn't have to stop you, either — but try to follow health experts' advice.

Is It Safe To Go Trick-or-Treating?

Trick-or-treating is central to many American families' Halloween celebrations, but visiting as many neighbors as you can in a couple of hours is basically the opposite of social distancing.

While some places have outright banned trick-or-treating, many are letting it go forward — but is it safe?

Not as safe as a lot of other things you could do to celebrate Halloween during COVID-19, according to the CDC. It lists standard trick-or-treating — where kids knock on doors to receive treats from their neighbors — as a "higher risk" activity, compared to some others.

A safer option is for people to place individual goodie bags near the sidewalk in front of their homes — kids can then grab a bag as they pass each house. Some candy-givers have gotten even more creative, with plans to dispense treats via catapults and scary slides.

Another option is combining trick-or-treating with another holiday's hallmark activity: the Easter egg hunt. Families can hide candy around their home or yard for children to find in lieu of going house to house as a "low risk" way to celebrate Halloween during COVID-19.

Learning From History

In 1918, trick-or-treating wasn't yet a Halloween tradition — that didn't happen until the 1920s — so parents didn't need to worry about their kids catching influenza while begging and/or extorting candy.

In fact, they didn't have to worry about their kids during the holiday much at all.

"Ghosts by the thousands swarmed through the streets."

Ohio State Journal

Back then, Halloween was primarily an adult holiday, marked by private parties and street celebrations. It was also an excuse for adolescents to cause mischief, vandalizing property and pulling pranks.

During the 1918 pandemic, officials cancelled some of the planned Halloween activities and tried to discourage others — house parties could further the flu's spread, they said, and many people wouldn't be healthy enough to fix the damage to their property the next morning.

Based on media reports, though, their requests often fell on deaf ears.

"This night was more gloriously observed and property was more thoroughly devastated than at any time," a reporter for Alabama's Birmingham News wrote on November 1, 1918. "Ghosts by the thousands swarmed through the streets."

Celebrating Halloween During COVID-19

The Spanish flu pandemic didn't peak until months after Halloween, but it's all but impossible to say exactly what effect the festivities of October 31, 1918, might have had on case numbers.

Still, "throngs" of people choosing to "jolify" on Halloween — as one Ohio newspaper described the night in 1918 — likely couldn't help the situation, and it won't help ours either.

With a few changes, you can still celebrate Halloween during COVID-19.

So, as they did back in 1918, health experts are urging people to be smart while celebrating Halloween during COVID-19.

If you decide to take the kids trick-or-treating, do so as safely as possible: wear masks, keep it brief, and stay six feet apart. Instead of going to a big indoor costume party or a haunted house, maybe stay home and carve pumpkins or watch scary movies.

If you do end up mingling with strange ghosts and ghouls this Halloween, though, be sure to sanitize your hands regularly and always wear a face mask. (And no, these don't count.)

We'd love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected].

Up Next

If you want to understand a problem, talk to the people working on solutions. Join us as we meet the people and explore the ideas on the frontlines of an unprecedented global response.

Coronavirus
How Does the Coronavirus Spread? Expert Consensus Builds
How Does the Coronavirus Spread
Coronavirus
How Does the Coronavirus Spread? Expert Consensus Builds
Scientists are beginning to come to a consensus on coronavirus transmission.

Scientists are beginning to come to a consensus on coronavirus transmission.

Coronavirus
Is the Coronavirus Airborne, and Does It Matter?
Is the Coronavirus Airborne
Coronavirus
Is the Coronavirus Airborne, and Does It Matter?
Is the coronavirus airborne? More than 200 scientists have told the WHO that yes, it’s likely the coronavirus spreads through aerosols.

Is the coronavirus airborne? More than 200 scientists have told the WHO that yes, it’s likely the coronavirus spreads through aerosols.

Coronavirus
Pain Relief From Coronavirus May Be Helping It Spread
Pain Relief From Coronavirus
Coronavirus
Pain Relief From Coronavirus May Be Helping It Spread
Rather than feeling sick, some people may be getting pain relief from coronavirus — a discovery that could impact both the pandemic and the opioid epidemic.

Rather than feeling sick, some people may be getting pain relief from coronavirus — a discovery that could impact both the pandemic and the opioid epidemic.

Coronavirus
Post-COVID-19 Clinics Offer Hope to Coronavirus Survivors
post-covid-19 clinics
Coronavirus
Post-COVID-19 Clinics Offer Hope to Coronavirus Survivors
Post-COVID-19 clinics are helping coronavirus survivors cope with lingering symptoms while helping researchers better understand the disease.

Post-COVID-19 clinics are helping coronavirus survivors cope with lingering symptoms while helping researchers better understand the disease.

Coronavirus
Ghost Kitchens Are Saving Restaurants During the Pandemic
ghost kitchens
Coronavirus
Ghost Kitchens Are Saving Restaurants During the Pandemic
Ghost kitchens are thriving during the pandemic, as more restaurants rely on online delivery orders for their income.

Ghost kitchens are thriving during the pandemic, as more restaurants rely on online delivery orders for their income.

Food
Robot Cook Could Help Restaurants Recover from COVID-19
Robot Cook
Food
Robot Cook Could Help Restaurants Recover from COVID-19
Miso Robotics is making Flippy ROAR available for $30,000 in the hopes the robot cook will help the restaurant industry recover from the pandemic.

Miso Robotics is making Flippy ROAR available for $30,000 in the hopes the robot cook will help the restaurant industry recover from the pandemic.

Food
Truffle Pomme Fondue Sound Tasty? Visit This Fine-Dining Drive-Thru.
fine dining drive thru
Food
Truffle Pomme Fondue Sound Tasty? Visit This Fine-Dining Drive-Thru.
The Resy Drive-Thru could help the restaurant industry survive the pandemic by serving as a creative new revenue stream for fine-dining chefs.

The Resy Drive-Thru could help the restaurant industry survive the pandemic by serving as a creative new revenue stream for fine-dining chefs.

Coronavirus
A Guide to Flying During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Flying During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Coronavirus
A Guide to Flying During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Flying during the coronavirus pandemic can increase your infection risk, but if you can't avoid it, here’s how to do so as safely as possible.

Flying during the coronavirus pandemic can increase your infection risk, but if you can't avoid it, here’s how to do so as safely as possible.

Public Health
Here Is Every Potential Coronavirus Treatment and Vaccine
coronavirus treatment
Public Health
Here Is Every Potential Coronavirus Treatment and Vaccine
Across the globe, researchers are scrambling to find a coronavirus treatment or vaccine that could bring the COVID-19 outbreak to a swift end.

Across the globe, researchers are scrambling to find a coronavirus treatment or vaccine that could bring the COVID-19 outbreak to a swift end.