Mason professor advises seeking low-risk ways to celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving

Amira Roess

Halloween and Thanksgiving traditions such as trick-or-treating, parades and large extended family meals should be reconsidered and reimagined during the coronavirus pandemic, said Amira Roess, professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University’s College of Health and Human Services.

“We need to do everything we can to reduce the risk of transmission by not engaging in high-risk activities that we might normally do during the holidays,” said Roess. “The last thing we want to see is outbreaks linked to Halloween or Thanksgiving.”

Roess said that people who want to celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving should concentrate on low-risk ways to celebrate, such as carving pumpkins with family members or doing a treat hunt outdoors with a limited number of families while maintaining social distance and wearing face masks.

“Traditional trick-or-treating is considered a high-risk activity because it generally involves people, especially children, coming together very closely, putting their hands in the same bowl of candy and then eating the candy around other people,” Roess said. “It will be challenging to go trick-or-treating safely because you will inevitably come into close contact with people from outside your household. Children and adults alike have a hard time maintaining social distance and keeping a face mask on for prolonged periods of time.”

For people who insist upon trick-or-treating, there are ways to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission. Roess suggested setting up a long table outside with individualized candy bags to encourage social distancing.

“Those preparing candy or goodie bags to give away should keep their hands clean and their masks on while getting the bags ready,” Roess said. She also suggested putting up signs and cones to encourage one-way trick-or-treating. Everyone should be wearing masks, said Roess, emphasizing that Halloween masks are not a replacement for face masks. Face masks are designed to reduce the transmission of viruses; Halloween masks are not.

Other traditional ways of celebrating Halloween, such as large parties, crowded pumpkin patches and haunted houses, should be avoided, according to Roess.

Looking ahead to Thanksgiving, Roess suggested replacing bringing family together from different geographic areas with a virtual celebration during the pandemic. Roess said people who insist on gathering should avoid traveling immediately before and after Thanksgiving, when rest areas and transportation hubs can be packed with people.

“Thanksgiving is often marked by surges in travel, crowded airports and train and bus terminals, as well as crowded rest areas and supermarkets,”  Roess said. “All of this must be avoided to reduce the risk of local and nationwide outbreaks.”

To reach Amira Roess directly, email her at

For more information, contact Anna Stolley Persky at

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls more than 39,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.