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Guidelines for celebrating Halloween and El Día de los Muertos in the high-risk COVID-19 red zone


Both Halloween and El Día de los Muertos are enjoyed within the loving company of families and friends. Both holidays bring with them community gatherings, food and drink sharing, cheering, shouting, singing and more. 

These are precisely the activities that worry health officials. COVID-19 spreads quickly among such gatherings, especially when people are enjoying each other’s company and prone to forgetting that the world is in the middle of a pandemic, potentially worse than the 1918 flu pandemic.

So how can Nevadans safely celebrate these days when, according to Gov. Steve Sisolak in a Tuesday press conference, the state is again in the high-risk red zone for COVID-19?

Washoe County is still allowing celebrations as long as they are done safely. The Nevada Health Response team has released a set of guidelines which helps people enjoy and celebrate while being safe.  

Halloween masks don’t provide adequate protection against COVID-19. Photo: Tabitha Mueller.

General guidelines for Halloween


Door-to-door trick or treating, the fun activity that involves an adult opening the door and leaning over a kid to give them candy, may cause a close contact situation. According to the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, the activity has the potential of spreading COVID-19. So, they are asking adults to get innovative with trick or treating. 

For example, one can 

  • Line up individually wrapped treats at the end of the driveway or yard’s edge and watch the happy sight from a safe distance. 
  • Use a plastic slide, cardboard tubes, or plastic pipes to deliver candy from a distance. 
  • Place individually wrapped candy outside on the porch, driveway, or table.
  • Take kids on an outdoor, distanced treasure hunt to look for candy or Halloween-themed items.
  • Make sure to remind kids to always wash or sanitize their hands before eating candies or touching mouth, nose and face. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also ranked activities as low, moderate and high-risk. 

Halloween activities per risk level


Activities featured in the low-risk level are least contact or no contact Halloween dos. Carving pumpkins with family members is recommended. Carving with people other than family members is not recommended but is OK to do if the participants can be physically distant and wear masks.

Virtual pumpkin carving or scary movie nights with friends are great ideas. 

Parents organize a scavenger hunt. They can make a list of finds and treats hidden in and around their house and hand them to kids. Kids can go on individual hunts looking for the treats.


Activities that involve controlled environments and little crowding falls into this category.

An entire neighborhood or housing area can take part by holding a friendly competition of the best-decorated yard among the neighbors. While they can admire from a distance, they can still interact and be a part of the community. 

Large gatherings, like downtown Reno’s Zombie Thriller Dance, aren’t recommended due to COVID-19. Photo: Andrea Laue.

Choosing a pumpkin patch or apple orchard that has social distancing, hand sanitizing and mask wearing in place is a great way to enjoy pumpkin carving and collecting while spending time with the community. If the patch or orchard has one way movement route or predetermined transit route then people can easily participate without bumping into one another. 

Try having a movie night outdoors with other families while wearing masks and remaining at a six-feet distance. If having a party at a private residence, encourage temperature checks, masking and hand sanitizing. A bulk of new COVID cases in Washoe County have been occuring at the private gatherings. Limit gatherings to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. 


  • Participating in traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children and individuals who go door-to-door. 
  • Having trunk-or-treat where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots.
  • Attending crowded costume parties held indoors. 
  • Going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming. 
  • Going on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household. 
  • Using alcohol or drugs, which can cloud judgement and increase risky behaviors. 
  • Traveling to a rural fall festival that is not in your community if you live in an area with community spread of COVID-19. 

El Día de los Muertos activities per risk level

En Español


Since the Mexican holiday is all about spending time with family and community, cooking food for loved ones and then delivering it at their doorsteps or in a way that doesn’t require close contact, is a great way to show care. 

Playing music that the deceased ones loved, making in your home that your deceased loved ones enjoyed, making and decorating sugar skulls or making an altar for the deceased, setting out pillows and blankets at home for the deceased, joining a virtual get-together celebration are all great ways to celebrate in the most safe way. 

Large gatherings aren’t recommended for Halloween or El Día de los Muertos holidays. Image: Ty O’Neil

Moderate Risk Activities

Whipping up a small group, open-air neighborhood costume parade with pre-decided routes can still be safe as long as there is at least 6 feet between participants. 

Visiting and decorating graves of loved ones with household members only and keeping more than 6 feet away from others who may be in the area. 

Hosting or attending a small outdoors dinner or cookout with local family and friends. Again people should wear masks, maintain hygiene and keep a 6 feet distance from the next person. 

Higher Risk Activities

Higher risk activities are not recommended and CDC asks to avoid them altogether. Large indoor celebrations with singing or chanting, parties, participating in other types of crowded indoor gatherings or events, having guests from different geographic locations, using alcohol or drugs, which can cloud judgement and increase risky behaviors fall into this category. 

Every type of gathering currently brings with it some risks. So, please remember that the main guidelines for safe gatherings are

Main guidelines on all gatherings

  • Outdoor gatherings are generally safer than indoor gatherings. 
  • Smaller groups are generally safer than larger groups. Avoid crowds. 
  • Shorter gatherings are generally safer than longer gatherings
  • Maintain at least 6 feet of distance from people outside your household. 
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Consider that alcohol or drugs cloud judgement and may lead to risky behavior increasing exposure to COVID-19

Stay home if 

  1. You have recently tested positive for COVID-19 and are currently in the isolation period.  waiting on the results of a COVID-19 test. 
  2. You are sick, have any respiratory infection symptoms, or any COVID-19 symptoms. 
  3. Any household member has COVID-19, is exhibiting respiratory infection symptoms, or any COVID-19 symptoms. 
  4. You have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and are currently in the quarantine period. 
  5. You believe to have been recently exposed or come into contact with a COVID-19 case. 

On face coverings

A mask should have two or more breathable fabric layers that cover the nose and mouth, with no gaps around the face. A Halloween mask will not work as it doesn’t have the adequate layers recommended against the virus. It’s safer to gather with people who consistently wear face coverings/masks (non costume). 

Kids aged 9 years and younger are not required to wear a mask. But the guidelines recommend that everyone 3 years and older wear a mask, unless they cannot medically tolerate it.

Guidance for events planners

Event planners shoulder most of the responsibilities to ensure safety of the attendees. They can do so by requiring timed reservations to limit attendance, create one-direction flow with lines, directional arrows, and spacing indicators. They are also responsible for setting up hand washing or sanitizing stations, requiring people to wear masks, ensuring that sick people are staying home by either reminding them beforehand or notifying them on-site. Complete guidance for event organizers is available at Nevada Health Response website

Sudhiti Naskar
Sudhiti Naskar
Sudhiti (Shu) Naskar is a multimedia journalist and researcher who has years of experience covering international issues. In the role of a journalist, she has covered gender, culture, society, environment, and economy. Her works have appeared on BBC, The National, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Reno Gazette-Journal, Caravan and more. Her interests lie in the intersection of art, politics, social justice, education, tech, and culture. She took a sabbatical from media to attend graduate school at the University of Nevada Reno in 2017. In this period, she has won awards, represented her school at an international conference and successfully defended her thesis on political disinformation at the Reynolds School of Journalism where she earned her Master's in Media Innovation.