By Mary Kilpatrick
Sorry, kids. The coronavirus is likely to wreck your Halloween. Experts say traditional trick-or-treating is risky if COVID-19 numbers don’t start dropping. But we could salvage small holiday gatherings like Thanksgiving at Mom and Dad’s, Christmas or Chanukah with the in-laws if they follow the recommendations designed to curb the virus’ spread. That means putting on a mask, and not inviting the entire neighborhood over.
Experts believe pandemic will still be with us for the holidays, so we will still be living with social distancing rules and mass gathering bans. The key to going back to a post-COVID world is a vaccine, and that’s not coming this year. But if everyone start following recommendations to stop the spread, we could save some of what makes the season special.
Plus, we could get creative. We’ve got plenty of time to plan. “My gut tells me I don’t think the holidays are going to be normal this year,” said Cleveland Clinic Dr. Joseph Khabbaza, a critical care and pulmonary physician.
Much about the holiday season depends on how the virus is spreading, Khabbaza said. That depends on masking up, keeping our distance and not gathering in big groups. It is possible. And while traditions are comforting, we don’t have to do the same thing every holiday. We could celebrate a new way.
For Halloween, maybe homeowners could leave a bowl of candy at the end of their driveway, along with a bottle of hand sanitizer, and wave at kids in cute costumes from their front stoop. Maybe for Christmas, you could plan a social distance tree lighting.
Here’s a look at how experts believe our holiday season might look, under the best- and worst-case scenarios:
Big parties are likely out this Halloween, which falls on a Saturday. And regular trick-or-treating this year would be a nightmare for spreading disease, said MetroHealth Dr. Nicholas Dreher, who specializes in internal medicine and pediatrics. While children don’t generally become as ill with COVID-19, and don’t spread it as easily, they can get sick, and they can spread the virus. On Halloween, they’d likely be mixing with vulnerable population.
“Who is giving out candy, but the really nice people — that happen to a lot of times be older,” Dreher said. “For that group of people to be talking and touching the same things that literally 100 kids that might come to their door that night is just scary as heck.”
Trick or treating would be safer if cases stop dropped significantly to low levels, but everyone would still need to wear a mask, whether they were costumed or not, Khabbaza said. It could be safer if people asked kids to a pump of hand sanitizer before grabbing candy from a bowl that’s been distanced from the home. But doctors are skeptical. How many kids are actually going to follow that rule, at every house, every time? It’s impractical, Khabbaza said.
It will be up to cities to decide whether to schedule an annual door-to-door trick-or-treat nights.
A semi-normal Thanksgiving is within reach. But as the state’s COVID-19 numbers continue to rise, the likelihood of a big family dinner with extended family falls.
Under the best circumstances, with cases trending in the right direction, families could probably hold a small holiday gathering of around six to eight people, ideally with what experts call your bubble. Your bubble is a group of people who are not in your immediate household, but family or friends who you continue to socialize with normally through quarantine, said Mark Cameron, an infectious disease researcher at Case Western Reserve University. If COVID cases are growing in your community, your bubble should only include your family.
Will there be a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade? It hasn’t been canceled yet, but it’s hard to imagine — even if most Americans only ever see it on TV. The Parade of Roses is already called off.
Christmas, Chanukah and New Year’s
Even if we do everything right and flattens its curve, large family gatherings or big holiday parties are off the table. The minute people start mixing again in large groups, the number will shoot up again. To the families who bring 50 second cousins and great aunts together: Your holiday gatherings will need to shrink.
One tip to make those smaller gatherings safer? Instead of having everyone serve themselves buffet-style, appoint one person to serve food. That way, fewer people are touching the same spoons.
For people who live far from where they call home, traveling across the country by plane isn’t advisable. Zoom parties will likely fill a hole for people celebrating the holidays away from family.
What about the mad rush of shoppers buying presents? We’ll probably be doing a lot of that online. Think of all the packages you’ll be sending in the mail.
So what can we do to salvage that most wonderful time of the year?
You may be baking Christmas cookies solo, but dropping them on your friends’ porches. Or scheduling a Zoom call to watch a sappy Hallmark movie instead of snuggling with your mom on the couch. Or FaceTiming Santa at the North Pole instead of meeting him at the Mall.
The idea may sound depressing. But rather than calling off everything we love, we’ve got sometime to figure out how to improvise.