Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation physician-scientist Hal Scofield, M.D.

In a year that’s had its share of scary, Halloween 2020 offers a familiar fright: the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
New CDC guidance on fall festivities lists door-to-door trick-or-treating, parking lot “trunk-or-treat” events and indoor costume parties as high-risk for coronavirus transmission. According to experts at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, parents should take these recommendations to heart.
“The CDC guidelines are rooted in the viral spread potential from children coming into repeated contact with high-touch surfaces — like bowls of candy or doorbells — as well as the lack of physical distancing that naturally occurs when trick-or-treating or attending parties,” said OMRF physician-scientist Eliza Chakravarty, M.D.
The American Academy of Pediatrics reported total U.S. pediatric Covid-19 cases surpassed 620,000 in September. And in one study, pediatric patients were shown to have much higher levels of virus in their airways than adults hospitalized in ICUs for Covid-19 treatment. While serious illness related to the virus is rare in infected children, contact tracing studies show they play a role in community spread.
“The risk of community transmission is bigger with a high viral load. Traditional Halloween activities could lead to a spike that sweeps through families and schools, affecting large numbers of at-risk individuals unknowingly,” Chakravarty said.
With cold and flu season upon us, we should all work diligently to stay healthy, added OMRF immunologist Hal Scofield, M.D., even if that means a change of plans.
“Cold and flu season, allergies and Covid create a perfect storm,” said Scofield, who also serves as associate chief of staff for research at the Oklahoma City VA. “So many early symptoms of these seasonal conditions are the same, and the only thing that rules out Covid-19 is a test. Rather than setting ourselves up for a fall of nasal swabs, we should do everything we can to avoid the sniffles.”
Still, the coronavirus needn’t turn Halloween into a pumpkin. Like so many other celebrations adapted for 2020, it just requires innovation.
“Let kids decorate Halloween-themed cloth masks,” said Chakravarty. She also suggested alternatives like social media costume contests, family pumpkin-carving contests or spooky movie marathons.
“Just because the holiday needs to be a little different doesn’t mean it still can’t be fun,” she said. “And scary!”