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CDC Offers Safety Tips for Halloween During Pandemic

Coronavirus-themed Halloween decorations are displayed on a lawn in Tenafly, N.J., Oct. 22, 2020.

“Witches Must Beware,” decried the front page of the Baltimore American newspaper on October 31, 1918. While Americans hunkered down to protect themselves from what would later be considered the second, and most deadly, wave of the Spanish flu pandemic, Halloween in 1918 would be filled with more tricks than treats.

More than 100 years later, many Americans have found themselves tasked with the same difficult decision: Ward off the risk of COVID-19 exposure by staying home, or go out and about in the community to celebrate one of the country's most beloved, and spooky, holidays.

Fret not! According to newly released guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children across the country may don their favorite costumes and hunt for candy this Halloween season — though with some additional health and safety precautions.

In the United States, nightfall on October 31 means two things for children: costumes and candy — and lots of it. One hundred seventy-two million Americans celebrated Halloween in 2019, and according to the National Retail Federation’s yearly survey, 148 million plan to do the same this year, despite COVID-19 cases surging across the country and around the world.

Ancient origins

Halloween, an abbreviation of All Hallows’ Eve, has its origins in an ancient pagan festival celebrated over 2,000 years ago. Each October, Celtic people would light bonfires and don ghoulish costumes to ward off spirits whom the Celts believed could walk among the living at each summer’s end.

As the festival spread to Britain, Ireland and northwestern France, trick-or-treating became a popular tradition. People would travel from house-to-house asking for small breads, called “soul cakes,” in exchange for a prayer, song or dance. Irish legend gave birth to the staple of glowing jack-o’-lanterns each October, named after night watchmen who would light street lamps each evening.

While Halloween ushers in the holiday season, many Americans have been left to wonder what the best way is to celebrate while being safe. For families, the CDC recommends low-risk activities, like gathering with household members to decorate your home, having virtual costume contests with friends, or visiting apple orchards or pumpkin patches where people can social-distance outdoors.

For those still wanting to trick-or-treat or pass out candy this Halloween, the CDC advises that houses put together individual goodie bags that would allow families to grab and go while continuing to social distance. If you’re planning to prepare goodie bags, don't forget to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after.

Halloween in the U.S. might look a bit different this year, but there are plenty of ways to enjoy the ghoulish holiday safely. So, kick back, queue up your favorite scary movie and get creative with celebrating the spookiest night of the year.