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Tanya Reid demonstrates with a mask and hockey stick how she will be participating in a safe and responsible Halloween this year, in Langley, B.C., on Oct. 2, 2020.Alia Youssef/The Globe and Mail

Witches don’t usually carry hockey sticks.

But this year is hardly going to be a typical Halloween. Tanya Reid will be at her home in Langley, B.C., wearing a witch’s hat and giving out candy to trick or treaters from the end of a hockey stick in order to maintain physical distancing.

“I do think people should put precautions in place,” says Reid, who works in retail.

The question hovering over the night this year isn’t what to dress up as, but is Halloween cancelled? If you look at buying habits, the answer is probably not. Costume companies say they don’t expect to see a drop in demand this year, while candy sales are up over the same period last year (with a decline expected near the end of the month). When it comes to official advice, some health experts say it’s safe to go trick or treating, so long as people follow guidelines that we are all by now familiar with. Meanwhile, the Public Health Agency of Canada is currently working on guidelines for the spooky holiday. But no matter who gives the go ahead, some parents remain uncomfortable sending their children out to join crowds of trick or treaters and instead will be doing Halloween at home.

“My kids are young. They’re not going to wash their hands. They’ll start digging in to candy as soon as it’s in their pails,” says Michelle Murray, who lives in Burlington, Ont., with her 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old twin boys. “I feel like, collectively, this is not a good time to be putting masses of people out in the street.”

Her daughter is fairly anxious about COVID-19 so likely won’t miss going out this year, Murray says. To give her sons a Halloween experience, she plans on adapting their favourite book, Monsters Come Out Tonight, in which different Halloween characters, from Dracula to Frankenstein, wait behind different doors of a house. Murray will turn on Halloween music and take the boys trick or treating in their home, with candy waiting behind every door.

Of course her kids will be dressing up, a tradition few people seem willing to give up.

Tanya Reid will be participating in a safe and responsible Halloween this year by sharing candy at the end of a hockey stick.Alia Youssef/The Globe and Mail

“Halloween isn’t going anywhere,” says Erin Springer, a spokesperson for Spirit Halloween, a company that operates pop-up costume stores in Canada and the United States. This year, the company has 1,400 stores in Canada and the U.S., up from 1,360 last year.

Martin Parent, president of Mondelez Canada, which owns Cadbury Canada, says sales of Halloween candy are up approximately 20 per cent over the same period last year, although he expects sales during the last two weeks of October to be much lower than usual. The company began shipping candy to stores in July, a month earlier than normal, for people who don’t want to be in crowded stores closer to Halloween.

But Mondelez is anticipating there will be fewer trick or treaters, and has lowered production accordingly, although the decreased output is only in the single digits, Parent says.

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control has advised families to avoid traditional trick or treating, according to guidelines released by the agency last month.

North of the border, some experts have already said they are open to trick or treating.

For example, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, gave the thumbs up last week. She said people should trick or treat with their own families or cohorts, and stay at least two metres apart.

Trick or treating “can be done safely,” says Dr. Alon Vaisman, an infection control physician at the University Health Network in Toronto. “Everything that’s done outside is, first of all, a lot safer than done inside.”

The key is to maintain distance and wash hands before eating any candy, he says.

But don’t think a costume mask provides any meaningful protection against the virus, Vaisman says.

“In terms of filtration, a Halloween mask probably provides very little to nothing,” he says.

Meanwhile, Toronto Public Health, like the Public Health Agency of Canada, plans on providing guidelines closer to Halloween, says Dr. Vinita Dubey, Associate Medical Officer of Health.

For people who plan on handing out candy, picking up a hockey stick, like Reid, or leaving a bowl of candy by the door is also advisable. “Anything you can do to reduce the likelihood that you’re within six feet of another individual,” Vaisman says.

This will probably be the last year Reid’s 14-year-old son can go trick or treating. If he does go, he’ll only be allowed to do so with one or two friends, not a roving pack of 10, Reid says.

But she says she plans on encouraging him to have a friend over to watch a movie and eat all the candy they want at home.

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