Halloween 2020: Stanford doctor says with proper common sense, people should be able to go trick-or-treating

An infectious disease specialist at Stanford Health Care explains why he doesn't consider collecting candy to be a super high-risk activity.
SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- A message from California's top health official Tuesday, "Be prepared for a different type of Halloween."

During an afternoon press briefing, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said usual traditions like trick-or-treating are not advised during the pandemic.

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"No trick-or-treating. The type of mixing that comes in our traditional trick-or-treating festivities is really not advised under COVID," Dr. Ghaly explained. "We're going to be working to put out some guidelines that are clear about how we can still celebrate the Halloween festivities."

South San Francisco resident and mother, Ester Estrada told ABC7 News, "I really thought we'd be back to normal by now."

Estrada echoed what many have been feeling for the last few months.

COVID-19 will once again reshape how the mother of two takes on tradition. For her family, Halloween 2020 means trick-or-treating, but only among trusted families.

"What we're doing is just driving the kids to safe places that we know of," she said. "Within our own circle."

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Dr. Ghaly told viewers on Tuesday, "We think some of the preparation can look very much the same, and I'm certainly looking forward to it. We're going to provide clear guidance. I know some counties are already putting some guidance out there, helping their communities think about it."

Near a Spirit Halloween store in San Jose, ABC7 News met Victoria Reyes.

"We would love to trick-or-treat for Halloween," Reyes said, speaking about her three children. "If not, it's going to kind of suck."

Dr. Dean Winslow would agree. He's an infectious disease specialist at Stanford Health Care, and said he doesn't consider collecting candy to be a super high risk activity.

"After you ring the doorbell, step back six feet, and wear your mask or face covering," Dr. Winslow told ABC7 News. "But I think that this is probably one of the low-risk holidays since it is primarily an outdoor event."

Still, he suggested celebrating as single family units only, using sanitizer, and social distancing.

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"I don't really foresee that Halloween will be a big event in terms of triggering large outbreaks or super spreader events," Winslow added. "I think people need to use some common sense."

Additionally, he said concern over potential transmission from touching candy wrappers is really not a significant threat.

"I certainly would recommend that you wash your hands frequently, or use hand sanitizer after you potentially open the packages," he said. "But this virus doesn't remain on surfaces for a really long, long time."

He continued, "I think if parents and children take reasonable precautions, this can be not a completely normal, but a fairly normal Halloween."

Winslow's message, differing from that of Dr. Ghaly.

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"All things are pointing to quite a different Halloween," Ghaly said. "And just as we talked about the High Holy Days being different, each of these upcoming celebrations are going to look different over the course of the rest of this year, certainly, and into early next year."

Winslow told ABC7 News, he believes the COVID-19 pandemic will certainly change people's behavior, or at least concerns about their social behavior for quite some time.

"In a way that's too bad, but it is what it is," he told ABC7 News. "It's something that we're going to have to deal with. I certainly hope though, that by this time next year, that we are pretty much back to normal."

He added, "But again, some of these things I don't think will dramatically affect the Halloween experience."

However, some parents aren't taking any chances.

"My kids are a little bit older, where they won't just go dig in the bag. They'll listen a little bit," Estrada shared. "I'll go in there and take out the Clorox wipes and start kind of wiping everything down."

She said her sons have also incorporated a level of protection with their Halloween costume choices as well.

"They have a mask that's going to be part of their character, but no face shield as of yet. We don't know yet," she said.

Dr. Winslow concluding, "As an infectious disease specialist, I really don't see Halloween trick-or-treating as being a super high risk activity by any means."

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