Q: Will we be able to celebrate the holidays with the pandemic still going on?
A: The holidays are rapidly approaching, and it is perfectly understandable to be concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on these annual celebrations of family and fun. With a few precautions, it is possible to enjoy the holidays and still remain safe.
We'll start with Halloween and look at the other upcoming holidays soon. You should always begin any holiday planning with the first principles of safety: keeping your distance, practicing good hygiene and wearing a mask or facial covering. If you are sick, stay home. All the rest follows from these simple guidelines. CDC has some excellent ideas at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays/halloween.html.
To begin with, this would be an excellent year to plan for small family gatherings. You could have a family pumpkin carving contest or costume contest. Grandparents could judge the winners by Zoom. Decorating the house and yard is a way to share the day with your neighbors from a distance. Pull out your favorite scary movie with some homemade snacks that you prepared yourself. My kids always liked "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" with Don Knotts, and "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" is still a favorite with the little ones (of all ages). If the weather is nice, you could have an outdoor movie night in the backyard with enough social distancing to invite a few friends.
Trick-or-treating is going to be, well, tricky. Outdoor activities are always safer, but you still have to keep your distance from others outside your household, which can be difficult. If you do go trick-or-treating, wear a mask — over your mouth and nose, that is. Costume masks won't prevent the spread of disease because they usually have an opening for the mouth and maybe even for your nostrils. Wearing a costume mask over a facial covering might be uncomfortable, especially for little kids. Try to incorporate your mask into your costume. You could be a surgeon, first responder, ninja or even a county health officer. Let your imagination go to work.
Keeping your distance while giving or getting treats also can be tricky. For those giving out treats, avoid direct contact with trick-or-treaters. Individually wrapped goodies can be put out in a box or witch's cauldron for "honor system" treating. Be sure you wash your hands (at least 20 seconds) before preparing your goodie bags.
Indoor haunted houses and parties should definitely be avoided. However, outdoor activities such as a scavenger hunt or one-way walk-through haunted forest or corn maze might be just the thing for this year. Remember, screaming means more potential virus spreading, so wear your mask and be sure you keep even more distance from others if you expect to be around screaming people!
So, while it may not be the usual Halloween, that can be a good thing. A bit of imagination might be just the thing to tell COVID-19 that you're not going to let it take away your fun.
Dr. Paul M. Hendricks is health officer for the Hamilton County Health Department and a member of the Chattanooga- Hamilton County Medical Society.
* Online: Get more ideas for safe celebrations from First Things First columnist Julie Baumgardner: https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/life/entertainment/story/2020/sep/19/first-things-first-7-fun-ways-celebrate-hallo/532418/
* Coming Sunday: See how some Chattanooga-area parents are preparing for Halloween in the Oct. 25 Life section.