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Virtua Health Offers Halloween & ‘Day of the Dead’ Safety Tips

Many typical Halloween activities are too risky during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But with some creative planning, kids and adults can still enjoy the holiday safely, according to experts from Virtua Health.

The same is true for Día de los Muertos or “Day of the Dead,” observed from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 in many Latino communities.

Big indoor gatherings, parades, and other traditions are now considered unsafe for both holidays, said Dr. Steven Santangelo, lead physician at Virtua Primary Care – Pennsauken.

“Traditional trick-or-treating is out,” he emphasized. “Going house to house and sticking hands into bowls of candy is very risky during the pandemic.”

In addition, some communities may cancel Halloween activities, so check with your municipal government before making plans. 

New Jersey has also issued Halloween guidance.

Dr. Santangelo advises everyone to consider alternate types of get-togethers. For instance, he, his wife, and their 6-year-old twins will attend an outdoor party with neighbors. The highlight will be a socially distanced show by a local magician.

“Children need activities to keep them occupied, so they’ll have fun and stay safely spaced apart,” he explained.

Safety Tips

Dr. Santangelo offers these tips for planning a lower-risk gathering: 

  • Invite a limited number of kids and families, and keep the guest list local. Don’t invite people from other states or regions.
  • Stay outdoors, in a space that allows people from different households to remain at least six feet apart.
  • Keep the event short, with a pre-announced end time.
  • If you want to distribute candy, provide pre-filled treat bags.
  • Require that everyone wear protective masks – not costume masks.
  • Ensure proper hand-washing supplies are available, including hand sanitizer and/or soap and warm running water.
  • If guests will use your bathroom, provide disposable paper towels for hand-drying. Put out a container of disinfecting wipes. Place a note asking guests to wipe all surfaces they touch before leaving the bathroom. Ask guests not to linger inside your home. 

In addition, Dr. Santangelo recommends considering the virus’s prevalence in your community before making plans with others. If coronavirus rates are rising – as they did after Memorial Day and Labor Day – the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19 will be higher.

The state’s dashboard provides case counts, down to the county and municipal level, at https://covid19.nj.gov/. And the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center shows positivity rates by state at https://coronavirus.jhu.edu.

Fun Ideas

Virtua Health staff members Leslie Oleaga and Megan DiTore offer an array of alternatives – from making crafts to watching special movies – for celebrating Halloween or Día de los Muertos.

“If you’re gathering with people you don’t live with, stick to activities you can do outdoors and remain six feet apart,” advised Oleaga, nurse director of pediatrics at Virtua Voorhees Hospital.

“At home, you can also do crafts, cooking, and games over Zoom,” added DiTore, a child life specialist. “That way, you can share these experiences with friends and family as safely as possible.”

Below are some of their suggestions.
For Halloween:

  • Hold a movie night. Options abound, from “Casper” to “Coraline,” “Goosebumps” to “Ghost Busters,” “Beetlejuice” to “Bewitched,” among many others.  
  • Make crafts. For example, create monster puppets from paper bags decorated with colorful construction paper. Then put on a puppet show! Or make puffy ghosts by cutting white paper into ghost shapes and gluing on cotton balls. 
  • Have a candy hunt. Place wrapped treats around the yard for kids to find. If you’re feeling crafty, fill clear gloves with candy, and tie the tops with orange and black ribbon. Or make “broomstick” candy bags using brown paper bags and wooden sticks. Tie the bags with string or twine, and make vertical cuts in the tops of the bags to look like bristles.
  • Virtually trick-or-treat. Check out the “Treat Town™” app, which enables users to collect candy and connect with friends and family, among other online activities. 
  • Play Halloween games. Try “Daylight and Darkness,” just like “Red Light, Green Light.” Play ring-toss using pumpkins with stems for the posts. Or create a bowling game with pins made from upside-down, white plastic cups made to look like ghosts. Use a black marker or construction paper to create eyes and mouths, and decorate an orange ball like a jack-o-lantern.
  • Have a scavenger hunt with Halloween-themed objects. 
  • Create a mummy by wrapping someone in toilet paper. Make it a race between families to see who can wrap someone fastest. (The paper breaks easily, so it’s harder than it sounds!)
  • Create a haunted story as a family.
  • Play “Guess What’s in the Halloween Box” by having kids use touch to identify hidden objects.
  • Make Halloween care packages, and have a few close families send each other “goody boxes.”
  • Decorate your house or yard.
  • Have a family photo shoot with costumes, props, and decorations.
  • Paint or carve pumpkins. Hold a virtual judging session with other families, including categories like scariest, funniest, and most creative.
  • Play themed Bingo or do word-searches. Sheets for both can be found online.

 For Day of the Dead:

  • Play music, including your deceased loved ones’ favorite songs and/or music connected to your family’s heritage.
  • Make crafts. Create Q-tip skeletons by gluing cotton swabs and a simple paper skull to black construction paper. Place about six Q-tip “ribs” horizontally to form the body. Or decorate “sugar skulls” – made of paper, clay, or other materials – with bright markers, glitter, and the like.
  • Make traditional foods.
  • Create a temporary altar for the deceased,called an ofrenda, a common symbol of the holiday. Include pictures and items that remind you of these loved ones.   
  • Share memories of loved ones.
  • Make a memory box.
  • Create a time capsule for your family to open in the future.
  • Watch “Coco,” an Oscar-winning, animated film in which a young musician enters the Land of the Dead to find his ancestor who was a legendary singer.

 For either holiday:

  • Cook or bake together.
  • Get artsy with holiday-themed coloring pages or “I Spy” pages.
  • Hold a family reading night.

DiTore notes that area residents can also help other local children when buying holiday supplies. Spirit Halloween stores across South Jersey will donate 10% of proceeds to Virtua’s Child Life programs when customers use a special 10%-off coupon. Child Life helps kids and their families cope with illness and hospitalization. To learn more, visit foundation.virtua.org/spirit.

For more safety tips and ideas, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s webpage on holiday celebrations. 

About Virtua Health

Virtua Health is committed to helping the people of South Jersey be well, get well, and stay well by providing the complete spectrum of advanced, accessible, and trusted health care services. Virtua’s 14,000 colleagues provide tertiary care, including a renowned cardiology program, complemented by a community-based care portfolio.

In addition to five hospitals, two satellite emergency departments, and more than 280 other locations, Virtua brings health services directly into communities through home health, rehabilitation, mobile screenings, and its paramedic program.

Virtua has 2,850 affiliated doctors and other clinicians, and its specialties include orthopedics, advanced surgery, and maternity. Virtua is affiliated with Penn Medicine for cancer and neuroscience, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for pediatrics.

As a not-for-profit, Virtua is committed to the well-being of the community and provides innovative outreach programs that address social challenges affecting health, from addiction and other behavioral issues to lack of nutritious food and stable housing.

A Magnet-recognized health system ranked by U.S. News and World Report, Virtua has received many awards for quality, safety, and its outstanding work environment. For more information, visit Virtua.org. To help Virtua make a difference, visit GiveToVirtua.org.