Halloween Safety – PediaCast 476

Show Notes


  • Halloween and trick-or-treat are just around the corner. We cover the usual safety tips… plus special considerations for celebrating the spooky holiday in the age of COVID. We hope you can join us!


  • Halloween Safety
  • COVID Pandemic



Announcer 1: This is PediaCast.


Announcer 2: Welcome to PediaCast, a pediatric podcast for parents. And now, direct from the campus of Nationwide Children's, here is your host, Dr. Mike.

Dr. Mike Patrick: Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to PediaCast. It is a pediatric podcast for moms and dads. This is Dr. Mike coming to you from the campus of Nationwide Children's Hospital. We are in Columbus, Ohio. 

It's Episode 476 for October 22nd, 2020. We're calling this one "Halloween Safety". I want to welcome all of you to the program.

We have a shorter show for you this week as we consider Halloween safety and in particular, how the ongoing pandemic affects the festivities. And despite the shorter format, it is an important topic because in many communities, this is our first holiday. Now, okay, Halloween is not really a holiday, but you get what I mean. 


This is the first community celebration of sorts that is taking on a semblance of normalcy. Memorial Day was cancelled. The Fourth of July was cancelled. Labor Day was cancelled. Halloween and many communities is proceeding, a little different than last year to be sure. But the decorations have gone up, some small parties are planned, trick or treating is moving forward, at least in my neighborhood, maybe in yours as well.  

And honestly, I think this is a good thing. We need some normalcy in our lives. We need something fun to look forward too, right? And Halloween, as it turns out, is an event that leans itself nicely to our new world of face coverings and physical distancing. But we still have to be smart about it.


There are plenty of considerations. Some of which we talk about every Halloween. And some of which are special to this Halloween, as we think about COVID. And their considerations are important for keeping our children and families safe and healthy while still having plenty of fun.

So that is our topic today, Halloween safety in the age of COVID. Before we get to the particulars, I would like to mention once again an opportunity for the health professionals in the crowd, especially my fellow pediatricians. The American Academy of Pediatrics has put together a virtual course called Harnessing the Power of Traditional and Social Media and Healthcare. It's happening November 14th and 15th on a computer screen near you. 

And in a world of fake news, bias reports, misleading social and digital content, it's very important for child health experts to employ effective communication and engagement strategies on television, radio, podcast, newspapers, magazines, blog posts, websites, and social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


However, this is not something we are typically taught in medical school or residency training. Now, if you happen to go to medical school at Ohio State or do your residency training at Nationwide Children's Hospital, we have lots of resources for you, including a social media and healthcare communications elective. But these are not things that are available in many locations. And learning these skills on your own takes time and often involves mistakes. 

So, here is what the AAP is offering, a virtual conference which you can attend from the comfort of your home while learning from health communication experts who made those mistakes before you. They learned by doing and they're ready to share what they know with you in live and recorded sessions on November 14th and 15th with recordings online and accessible to attendees even after that date.


Details and registrations are available at the landing site for the course. Again, it's called Harnessing the Power of Traditional and Social Media in Healthcare. And I'll put a link to the registration page in the show notes for this episode, 476, over at pediacast.org. 

By the way, early bird registration is just $150 if you sign up by October 26. And as a bonus, you can earn over 17 hours of Category I CME Credit and ten points of MOC II credit for those maintaining their certification with the American Board of Pediatrics. 

Again, links to the details and the registration page are available in the show notes over at pediacast.org. I'll be there and I hope to see you.

Don't forget, you can find PediaCast wherever podcasts are found. We are in the Apple and Google Podcast apps, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, Amazon Music, and most other podcast apps for iOS and Android. If you like what you hear, please remember to subscribe to the show, so you don't miss an episode. 


Also, please consider leaving a review wherever you listen to podcasts so that others who come along looking for evidence-based child health and parenting information will know what to expect.

We're also on social media and love connecting with you there. You'll find us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Simply search for PediaCast. And then, we do have that Contact page over at pediacast.org. If you have a suggestion for a future topic of the program, please let me know. Just head over to pediacast.org and click on that Contact link.

And then, finally, I do want to remind you the information presented in PediaCast is for general educational purposes only. We do not diagnose medical conditions or formulate treatment plans for specific individuals. If you have a concern about your child's health, be sure to call your healthcare provider. Also, your use of this audio program is subject to the PediaCast Terms of Use Agreement, which you can find at pediacast.org.

So, let's take a quick break and then we will be back to talk more about Halloween safety. It's coming up right after this.



Dr. Mike Patrick: All right, so we are talking Halloween safety this week and it's 2020. And so pretty much everything that we cover gets to one degree or another flavored by COVID. And so let's just right out of the gate talk about some of the particulars of Halloween safety, as it relates to COVID in this particular year.

And I guess the first consideration really is, is there trick-or-treating in your community? And as a family, are you deciding to participate in traditional trick-or-treating or not?


And there has been some recommendations that have come out from public health agencies that say, it's probably not a good idea to trick or treat this year because of the pandemic. And I certainly would not try to sway you from following the advice of your local public health officials, but I will say, like so many things that we talk about on PediaCast and in medicine in general and when I talk to families in the exam room, a lot of the decisions that we make really come down to risk versus benefit, right?

And so, you have to think for your own family, if you're going to make a decision to do one thing or another, and this doesn't just apply to Halloween and trick or treating. It really applies to pretty much everything that you're making a decision about, especially as it relates to health and wellness.


And so, you have to look on one side what is the benefit of the decision I'm going to make, what is the risk of the decision that I'm going to make. And then you have to filter that through your risk tolerance. Like what tolerance do I have for risk, how big is the risk, how big is the benefit, am I willing to take this chance?

And I will say that as you think about traditional trick-or-treating, where you are already potentially wearing a face covering, people are going out in groups, family groups in your own neighborhood, there is risk. But it's definitely lower risk than attending an indoor event or being around the same people who aren't necessarily in your social bubble for more than 15 minutes, or not wearing a mask, or being in a stadium full of people. 

Trick-or-treating is lower risk, but we have to at least on the onset say, okay, there's a little risk, for sure. 

So what are some things that we can do to further minimize that risk as we think about trick-or-treating because on the other hand, what's the benefit? I mean, the benefit is doing something fun as a family, having at least some thing that feels normal in 2020.


So, I think that, first and foremost, face coverings are going to be a must for kids and parents. And everybody's used to wearing those anyway. So, this is definitely a year to wear a face covering. And I would say that you really want it to be the kind of face covering that everybody has been used to wearing.

So double-layer cloth coating, you can go to CDC website, your local public health website. There's patterns if you want to make it. You can buy these. You know what I'm talking about, the regular face coverings and then you can decorate those up if you like. You can draw pictures on the outside, color them depending on the fabric, or you can choose fabrics that go along with whatever costume that you're creating. 

If you're going to wear a trick-or-treat mask, so you know what I'm talking about. You go to a costume store and there is a particular mask that you want to wear, I would still put a face covering a normal one underneath that. And then, you still want to make sure that when you put the other mask on, that you can breathe okay and that it's not obstructing you too much with the other mask on top of your face mask. 


But Halloween masks are not really designed to keep respiratory droplets from yourself inside and keep respiratory droplets from other people on the outside. So it's not really the barrier that you're looking for. So, face coverings and the ones that we're all used to wearing now really continue to be a must as you go out and trick-or-treat.

And then, I would be sure that you travel with members of your social bubble, right? If you have been getting together with some neighbors and they're not really getting together with others outside of your social bubble, or you have kids who their classmates that maybe also live near you and so you're going to go. If you can just travel with your family, your household, that would probably be best. But at the minimum, make sure that these people are at least in your social bubble and not big groups of people that you're not used to being around.


And then, as you go around trick-or-treating with your bubble, I would keep physical distance from other bubbles, other groups. Maintain some space between your group and other groups. Carry hand sanitizer with you and hand sanitize, wash your hands with the hand sanitizer often. 

And especially if you're going to be adjusting, if you've touched other things and then you're going to be adjusting your mask or touching your face, rubbing your eyes, definitely use the hand sanitizer between those activities, so before you touch your face.

And then, this year, don't eat candy on the trail because you're going to take it home and do something with it, which we are going to talk about in a little bit. But don't eat it out on the trail. I mean, that's very tempting to reach into that bag, grab the little snack-sized Snickers bar, Three Musketeers, and eat it as you're walking around. Don't do that this year.


This year, just leave the candy and then when you get home, you got a couple options with what you're going to do. And I want to preface this by saying, the science is unclear about the safety of touching objects. So there are studies out there that show that the virus stays on certain materials for this long. We don't know if that virus is still viable or they're just finding dead virus that is not capable of infecting you. 

We don't know what happens when the respiratory droplets dry out. Is the virus still there in a form that can infect you, how much of the virus kind of object do you need to become infected? 

So, some of these is a little unclear. And so, I would just have abundance of caution and say that touching the objects and then touching my face, my nose, my eyes could be a problem.


And so, your best bet I think is to either just let the candy sit for a couple of days. Just let it sit there, just like some folks do with their groceries now. Or go ahead and wipe the outside of the candy wrappers with disinfectant wipes, just like you sort of process your groceries. Some of us do that. 

And some of us would become a little more lax with that because we are finding out that's not quite as risky as being in rooms with someone who has COVID symptoms or has asymptomatic COVID and you're in close contact with them, especially indoors for prolonged period. We think that on objects, it's less of a risk.

But we're not going to say it's zero risk. And so again, out of abundance of caution, I would just wipe the wrappers down with the disinfectant wipe or let them sit for a couple of days.  And then after you're done doing that, wash your hands really well with soap and water.


Now, if you're not going to go trick-or-treating, there are some alternative activities that you could get involved with. One of those is to have a virtual costume party on Zoom, right? Get your friends together on Zoom and show off your costumes. That can be fun. 

Outdoor costume parades, some neighborhoods have those planned. There may be some outdoor community events with again with face coverings and physical distancing. Maybe have a spooky movie night with the age-appropriate movies for your family. Decorating and curving pumpkins can be fun. We'll talk more about jack-o'-lantern and safety in just a few minutes.

And then, Halloween theme treats can be fun, especially if you make them together. You can find plenty of recipes online for all sorts of fun, Halloween themed snacks and treats. We want folks to eat healthy but we also want you to have fun. And so, this is one time of the year is fine, make an unhealthy snacks. It's Halloween. Let's have a little bit of fun. 


And in particular, if you make those snacks together with your kids, you can sort talk through the science of baking and help them measure and figure out how much to add, what order to add it, how do you do this? Of course, if you're going to be using anything sharp or pokey or hot flames, you definitely want to be careful and supervise your kids. Make sure they're of the right age to be able to handle those things or to stay away while you do it and they watch.

So just have fun this Halloween even if your community is not having trick-or-treating. Or your family has decided that it's just too risky compared to the benefits for you, then that's a decision that your families come up with, then that's a good decision for you and family. But at least do something fun.

And then, let's talk costumes. We're going to transition now into the normal every Halloween safety. So this is the stuff that is above and beyond the COVID safety tips.


So, in terms of picking a costume, you want to void anything that's going to restrict your vision or your movement. Make sure that your shoes fit well. If you're going to use makeup, make sure that it's non-toxic. 

And decorate hats instead of using masks if you're going to have your regular face covering. Maybe a decorative hat to go along with that face covering may be a good idea, or again, non-toxic makeup.

You want costumes that are bright and reflective, be sure to look for flame-resistant labels and avoid carrying sharp or long objects, especially one that could hurt other people or that you could fall upon and hurt yourself. So things like swords and canes and sticks, probably not a good idea when you're walking around in the semi-darkness and could trip over something.

And then, never use decorative contact lenses unless you're a professional actor and they've been prescribed by an eye doctor. Those things can cause some eye damage if they're not used property, if they do not fit properly, if they stay in too long. So, really just not a good idea to use decorative contact lenses, except in very special situations.


Let's talk up pumpkins. You really don't want to allow small children to curve pumpkins, especially if you're using a knife. There are some of those more blunted objects that will cut pumpkins that may be safer for some smaller kids under really closed supervision, definitely no knives though with the small kids. 

And then, in addition to being a safety hazard in terms of just curving the pumpkin itself, what you put inside of the pumpkin is also going to be an important consideration. If you're going to use a candle, really keep that jack-o'-lantern away from foot traffic, outside of the house, in a place where you're going to be able to watch it and supervise it. 

So if it catches fire, turns over, catches something else some fire, you'll see it and can respond immediately. So you definitely do not want to leave candlelit jack-o'-lanterns unattended or where people can walk into them or trip over them.


And consider using a flashlight or a flicker light or a glow stick instead of a candle. That is definitely a safer option.

At home, as you are decorating for Halloween, make sure that you remove any tripping hazards. Check outdoor lights. Replace burned out light bulbs, sweep wet leaves from trick-or-treat paths because those can be slippery. 

Contain and restrain your pets, really important thing, as kids are out wandering around. And be sure to offer something nonedible as an option, especially for kids who have food allergies. Maybe they can't have any of the things that you are offering in terms of candy. 


And so things like glow sticks, spider rings, vampire fangs, pencils, little bottle of bubbles that you can blow, bouncy balls, finger puppets, whistles, kazoos, bookmarks, stickers, stencils, all of those sorts of things if you have a little bucket of those, along with the candy. That can be really helpful for folks in your neighborhood who have food allergies. 

And then, as you are trick-or-treating, we talked about some of the safety things related to COVID. But other things to consider, wearing reflective tape for costumes or putting it on bag, so that folks who are in cars can see you easily. Be sure to accompany young children. 

Again, stay in your social group on well lit streets. If there's no sidewalk, you're going to want to walk on the very far edge of the roadway facing traffic. So remember, you ride bicycles with traffic, but you walk facing traffic. But if you have options that have sidewalks, just stick with the sidewalk. That's definitely going to be safer than walking on the edge of the road.


Don't cut across yards or use alleys. Just stay on those sidewalks on well-lit streets. You're going to be going to houses that have their porch light on. Be sure to cross streets at established crosswalks. 

These are all the things that we should be teaching our kids to do, anyway, but really want to reinforce all of these rules when folks are out trick-or-treating. And then, don't cross between park cars or out of driveways. 

Never enter a home or car. Don't go inside. So if you have older kids who are going in their social group out trick-or-treating, don't get in a car or a house. Don't go inside. 

Carry a cellphone for quick communication and review with your kids how to call 9-1-1.

If you are going to be on roadways during trick-or-treat, really make a conscious efforts not to be distracted. So if this is the time when you're coming home from work or you're going to work and it's in the early evening, trick-or-treaters are out there. I mean, we really shouldn't be looking at our phones anyway when we're driving. But in particular, trick-or-treat night, really make sure there's no distraction.


Pay close attention because you don't know when someone is not going to follow the rules that we just talked about and dart out between the car out from a driveway just not thinking. They're excited to get to the next house, it's across the street. And you turn the corner and suddenly, there they are. So just be really, really careful and distraction-free.

In terms of the candy, this is a question that we get ask a lot even in non-COVID years, how much candy should they eat, how do we limit their candy, or the things that we should not eat. One advice that has worked over the years is to eat your supper early. 

So eat an early dinner and then before you go out trick-or-treating or before you go to a party that's going to have a lot of unhealthy food, have a little meals. So you're not as hungry and then it's not as tempting to sample the candy from the trick-or-treat bag. 


Again, we said don't eat treats while out on the trail and check your treats. Be sure to discard anything that looks spoiled, that's unwrapped. Anything that looks suspicious, just throw it away. 

Pay attention to choking hazards especially for young kids. It looks like it's something that they could choke on, like those little jawbreakers, other small candies especially in little hands, just go ahead and throw those out.

And then I think it's also a good idea to ration treats following Halloween. Don't just leave the bucket on the table or on the counter once you processed those wrappers as we talked about. Don't just leave it out until it's gone. 

Really say, okay, we're going to take out three or four items and you can have those tonight. Pick your favorites and then each day, pick a few more and just leave those out. So really ration it over the days after Halloween.


And once we're a week out and it has lost its novelty and kids aren't asking for it anymore but you still have the surplus, just go ahead and throw it away. Once the fun is gone and now, we're all decorating for Christmas and thinking about the holiday season and what that's going to look like in COVID, just go ahead and leave Halloween behind us. 

Have fun now but then get rid of that surplus candy. Don't let it sit around too long and be tempting.

Lots more safety tips for you if you're interested or want to share this with others or in your social media channels, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, one of those resources is great every year, Halloween Health and Safety Tips. And I'll put a link to that in the show notes for this episode, 476, over at pediacast.org.


And then, they also have an article that's COVID specific, so Halloween & COVID-19: Have Fun While Staying Safe. And that's also an article from the American Academy of Pediatrics. And again, I'll also put a link to that one in the show notes for this episode over at pediacast.org.

So, I think that the take-home message here is have fun this Halloween with your family. I mean, just really have a great time but we want to do it safely. It's been a really, really tough year for all of us and so many things in our lives are different or cancelled. 

And so, I really think that this Halloween season can give your family a little sense of normalcy. And that has happened for us a few times when we go to a park and there's not a lot of people there at all, and we take off our face coverings. And we're hiking on a trail and looking at birds and insects and leaves, and you forget about the pandemic. 


And then, when it's an hour later or heading back to the car, now we're going to be in an open area where there are lots of other people. And so we put our face coverings back on. And the first thing that my daughter said to me was, "I felt normal for an hour. I forgot about the pandemic. I felt normal. We had fun. That was really great." 

And so, those are the kind of activities and memories that can make a difference for our mental health. And so, if you are able to trick-or-treat and you feel safe doing it and think about these safety guidelines, I think it's a good thing. I think we need some normalcy in our lives.



Dr. Mike Patrick: We are back with just enough time to say thanks once again to all of you for taking time out of your day and making PediaCast a part of it. Really do appreciate that.

Don't forget, you can find PediaCast in all sorts of places. There may be an easier way for you to listen than what you're doing right now.  You'll find us in the Apple and Google Podcasts apps, also iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, Amazon Music, and most other podcast apps for iOS and Android. 

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And since Nationwide Children's is jointly accredited by all of these professional organizations, it's likely we offer the exact credit you need to fulfill your states Continuing Medical Education requirement. 

Shows and details are available at the landing site for that program which is pediacastcme.org. You can also listen wherever podcasts are found. Simply search for PediaCast CME. 


Thanks again for stopping by. Be sure to have a very safe Halloween. And most of all, have fun. Well, I mean, not most of all, we want you to be safe, but definitely have fun with your family and your friends if you are in the same social bubble. 

And until next time, this is Dr. Mike saying stay safe, stay healthy and stay involved with your kids. So, long, everybody.


Announcer 2: This program is a production of Nationwide Children's. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time on PediaCast.

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