Making your family’s Halloween as safe as it can be

The Boundary County Sheriff’s Office this morning posted a link to its social media pages to OffenderWatch, an app that can be used by the public to access information on registered sex offenders.

“With Halloween time coming along with the current events we are all experiencing we wanted to share this link to you all,” Sheriff David Kramer said.

At https://offenderwatch.com, parents install the Safe Virtual Neighborhood App and create an account for the whole family, install it on the children’s devices and find sex offenders on a map, locate your family and get alerts from law enforcement about sex offenders in your neighborhood.

There are many ways you can help make your Halloween safer from COVID-19, too, especially by not taking part in the festivities if you are sick. It’s the better part of valor to sacrifice rather than to put others at greater risk, and staying home or keeping your door closed to trick or treaters is a sacrifice that will be appreciated in the long run.

If you usually hand out candy but are sick this year, keep your door closed and don’t turn on your porch light. Trick or treaters should refrain from going to any house that’s dark, even if it has been, in years past, one of your prime stops.

Those who can go out trick or treating and have friends who can’t go out this year can share the sacrifice, divvying up your post trick or treating bounty and leaving a share with those in quarantine.

Here are some other tips, gleaned from the Centers for Disease Control and other authoritative sources and compiled for North Idahoans.

“Panhandle Health District recognizes the great value of tradition and celebration when it comes to holidays, like Halloween,” officials wrote in a Halloween safety flyer for this time of pandemic. “However, as we look for ways to balance life amidst a pandemic, health and safety must be at the forefront. PHD wants our community to be aware that many traditional Halloween activities can be high-risk for spreading viruses. “The safest celebrations are those that involve your household members, allow for consistent social distancing, are outdoors, include good hygiene practices, follow all health and safety measures encouraged for COVID-19, and adhere to any local public health orders in place.”

For those who choose to celebrate Halloween, PHD urges people to opt for low-risk activities, as outlined in this guidance for a safer Halloween celebration. If you do not feel well, have a respiratory or gastrointestinal illness, or may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should not participate in in-person Halloween festivities, and should not give out candy to trick-or-treaters.

These lower-risk activities can be safer alternatives:

  • Carving or decorating pumpkins with members of your household and displaying them
  • Carving or decorating pumpkins outside, at a safe distance, with neighbors or friends
  • Decorating your house, apartment, or living space
  • Doing a Halloween scavenger hunt where children are given lists of Halloween-themed things to look for while they walk outdoors from house to house admiring Halloween decorations at a distance
  • Having a virtual Halloween costume contest
  • Having a Halloween movie night with people you live with
  • Having a scavenger hunt-style trick-or-treat search with your household members in or around your home rather than going house-to-house

Moderate-risk activities include:

  • Participating in one-way trick-or-treating where individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up for families to grab and go while continuing to social distance, such as at the end of a driveway or at the edge of a yard
  • Having a small group, outdoor, open-air costume parade where people are distanced more than six feet apart
  • Attending a costume party held outdoors where protective masks are used and people can remain more than six feet apart
  • Going to an open-air, one-way, walk-through haunted forest where appropriate mask use is enforced, and people can remain more than six feet apart. If screaming will likely occur, greater distancing is advised. The greater the distance, the lower the risk of spreading a respiratory virus.
  • Visiting pumpkin patches or orchards where people use hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins or picking apples, wearing masks is encouraged or enforced, and people are able to maintain social distancing
  • Having an outdoor Halloween movie night with local family friends with people spaced at least six feet apart

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

  • Participating in traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go door-to-door
  • Having trunk-or-treat where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in crowded parking lots
  • Attending crowded costume parties held indoors
  • Going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming
  • Going on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household
  • Using alcohol or drugs, which can cloud judgement and increase risky behaviors
  • Traveling to a rural fall festival that is not in your community if you live in an area with community spread of COVID-19

While trick-or-treating falls under a high-risk activity, which is not recommended in communities with widespread COVID-19 transmission, if you are opting to trick-or-treat, or hand out treats, please consider the following:

Choose neighborhoods or environments that are not crowded and allow for proper social distancing of staying six feet apart. If you can’t keep physical distance, it’s best to avoid activities like trick-or-treating or going to a crowded pumpkin patch.

Do not open and eat candy along the way; wait until you get home and have properly washed your hands. Everyone should wash their hands well with soap and warm water upon returning home and avoid touching or removing face coverings/masks while out.

If you are handing out treats, understand the level of risk you’re willing to take. Packaged food is not considered a common source of coronavirus exposure, but it’s not without risk. If you put out a bowl of candy, a larger number of people will touch the bowl and candy. If you hand out candy individually, fewer people touch the candy, but they come into closer contact with one another, especially if children line up outside the door. It’s close contact with others that creates the greater risk of COVID spread.

You can reduce risk in how you hand out treats. Options to reduce, but not eliminate, risk include:

  • Use tape to mark waiting spots six feet apart on the way up to your door.
  • Use fun ways to give the candy while staying six feet apart, like slide the candy down a wrapping paper tube into their trick-or-treat bags. Or individually wrap goodie bags and line them up for families to grab and go while staying social distanced, such as at the end of a driveway or at the edge of a yard.
  • When you answer the door for trick-or-treaters, wear a cloth face covering/mask.
  • Wear masks that snugly cover the nose and mouth as part of the Halloween costume.

Kids can decorate cloth face coverings with fabric markers or embellishments to go with their costumes! Avoid plastic masks with holes—commercial costume masks won’t provide the same level of protection unless they are made of two or more layers of breathable fabric that fit with no gaps around the face. Make sure kids wear their masks while trick-or-treating.

It’s not normal, these times, but we can stay positive and do our very best to make the best of what is safe and still fun.

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