The scariest thing on Halloween night will be the invisible threat of COVID-19, and adults and children should change their plans to minimize that danger, according to new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The top U.S. health agency issued a new set of coronavirus safety recommendations on its website late Monday, in what it described as a “supplement” to existing safety measures in various states and cities. The guidelines are some of the first to emerge on a national level ahead of the Halloween season in the United States and Canada.

“Many traditional Halloween activities can be high-risk for spreading viruses,” the agency says on its website. “There are several safer, alternative ways to participate in Halloween.”

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The CDC is urging people to avoid some of the most beloved traditions of the spooky season, including trick-or-treating and indoor costume parties, due to the “high risk” they pose for spreading the virus.

It’s also labelled haunted houses, hayrides with strangers, fall festivals outside your community, drinking and “trunk or treating” as higher-risk activities during the pandemic. (Trunk-or-treating involves handing out candy from the trunk of a car).

The CDC recommended several lower-risk activities for celebrating the holiday with people in your immediate household, including carving pumpkins, watching movies and holding candy scavenger hunts.

The agency also described some activities that are moderately risky, such as attending an outdoor costume party in a mask, conducting one-way trick-or-treating and visiting haunted forests while maintaining more than two metres of space from others.

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The CDC points out that some activities, such as screaming, require more space because they project respiratory droplets across greater distances.

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However, local and regional officials in the U.S. and Canada have been urging similar safety measures in the run-up to the holiday.

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In Ontario, for example, Premier Doug Ford said he’d prefer it if parents did not take their children trick-or-treating this year.

“It just makes me nervous, kids going door to door with this,” he said earlier this month.

“Halloween is certainly not cancelled,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said recently. “It will look different this year.”

B.C.’s top doctor, Bonnie Henry, echoed that message on Sept. 9.

“I think we can rescue Halloween,” she said. “We should be looking at doing it outdoors, in small groups, and I would encourage groups to get together and have little areas where they can have things pre-packaged.”

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A handful of communities have flirted with banning trick-or-treating outright. Los Angeles County initially banned it, but officials walked that back amid major outcry earlier this month. County health officials now say it’s “not recommended.”

Woodstock, N.B., announced last week that it will ban trick-or-treating because of the pandemic.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is working with partners and experts to develop guidance for the holiday, a Health Canada spokesperson told Global News. Those guidelines will be posted on the PHAC website in early October.

“It is important to follow the advice of local public health authorities, which will provide specific guidance based on local rates of transmission and other circumstances within individual communities,” a Health Canada spokesperson said.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

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