Photo illustration of a masked skull in Arlington, Virginia, on October 28, 2020.

Photo illustration of a masked skull in Arlington, Virginia, on October 28, 2020.

Medical experts call traditional trick-or-treating a “high-risk” activity. Indoor Halloween parties are definitely not safe — and in some cases unlawful. And a Halloween mask offers poor protection from the coronavirus.

So how do we save Halloween?

From costumes to candy hunts, join us for a conversation on the many creative ways grown-ups and kids are planning for a fun Halloween — and Dia de los Meurtos — while taking the pandemic seriously.

Produced by Lauren Markoe


  • Jonathan Heisey-Grove Stay-at-home Dad and president, The National At Home Dad Network; @homedadnet
  • Angela Haupt D.C.-based freelance writer; @angelahaupt


  • 12:32:03

    KOJO NNAMDIMost years on Halloween, it's fun to be a little scared, but this year, we're grappling with some very real fears. Because the pandemic still rages, the Centers for Disease Control has categorized traditional trick-or-treating and crowded indoor costume parties as high-risk activities. And forget about bobbing for apples. Anything that brings us into contact with anyone not in our household comes with the increased risk of transmission of a potentially deadly disease.

  • 12:32:31

    KOJO NNAMDIBut that doesn't mean we need to skip Halloween this year. Adults and kids across the region are finding creative ways to embrace the holiday with a healthy dose of COVID caution. Joining us now is Jonathan Heisey-Grove. He's an at-home dad of two boys and the president of National At Home Dad Network. Jonathan Heisey-Grove, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:32:56

    JONATHAN HEISEY-GROVEThank you for having me on.

  • 12:32:58

    NNAMDIBefore we get to your family's Halloween plans this year, can you tell us about the organization you lead? It's called the National At Home Dad Network.

  • 12:33:07

    HEISEY-GROVEYeah. So, we are a nonprofit organization, a national one, as the name implies. We basically do advocacy, community education and support for at-home dads across the country. We have a good number of members who are the primary caregivers of their children. And so, our organization helps to give them the tools that they need, give them support that they need. And also, we try and advocate for each other and our roles as primary caregivers.

  • 12:33:46

    HEISEY-GROVEHow did you decide to be an at-home dad, and how old are your kids?

  • 12:33:49

    HEISEY-GROVESo, that's -- all right. I'll go with the kids first. My kids are (laugh) 13 and 7, going on 8 in December. I've been an at-home dad for eight years now, and the decision was not necessarily mine. I was released from my job, my last fulltime job. And my primary focus when I left my job was to be a primary caregiver, essentially. The first thing that came to mind, my son was four at the time, my oldest son. And we needed a way to take care of him and provide for him. And so, my immediate response from being released from my job was to find ways to take care of him and be that primary caregiver.

  • 12:34:42

    NNAMDIGood for you. Let's hear about Halloween at your house. What does your family usually do, and how is it going to be different this year?

  • 12:34:51

    HEISEY-GROVEWell, usually, we are like most families. We get costumes and dress up in whatever is currently tickling our fancy as far as characters are concerned, and things like that. And because of the age difference, we tend to split. My wife will usually go with our younger son, and I will go with our older son. And they will -- sometimes we'll pair up with either family or neighbors and go walking around our neighborhood. And it's a pretty active and festive neighborhood where we live.

  • 12:35:27

    HEISEY-GROVESo, as a result of COVID and what we're going through now, our plans have definitely changed. We will be -- this year, we are going to be doing a scavenger hunt, or a Halloween hunt, as we're sort of calling it here. So, much like Easter egg hunt, we're just doing the candy with the kids. And because they've become so adept at finding eggs during Easter, we're going to have to make it a bit more of a challenge this year. So, we're looking forward to really challenging their brains and trying to find the candy that they're going to be looking for.

  • 12:36:10

    NNAMDIWell, that's what you're looking forward to. Are your kids also looking forward to it? Are they not disappointed about having a different kind of Halloween?

  • 12:36:18

    HEISEY-GROVEThey are not necessarily disappointed. They have adjusted pretty well. I mean, we are now six months into this, and so they've made the mental adjustment that things will have to change. And we've prepped them ahead of time that, you know, we're not going to be doing the same things that we normally do, especially around the holidays, just because we need to make sure that we isolate and we protect ourselves, let alone our friends and our family around us. So, that adjustment has not been hard for them.

  • 12:36:49

    NNAMDIJoining us now is Angela Haupt, a D.C.-based freelance writer. Angela Haupt, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:36:56

    ANGELA HAUPTHi. I'm excited to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

  • 12:36:59

    NNAMDIYou're more than welcome. In a piece you wrote for DCist recently, you report that Halloween has not been cancelled and introduce us to several families that have found creative ways to continue their traditions. Could you describe to us some of the ways people are adapting Halloween for the COVID era?

  • 12:37:16

    HAUPTYes. And that's exactly right. So, even though Halloween will look different this year, there is no reason to stop booing. So, I found so many fun ways that local families are keeping that spooky spirit alive. So, one of my favorites is a family who is going ghosting. And first, let me just clarify, ghosting has nothing to do with that ex who disappears into the night, never to be heard from again.

  • 12:37:39

    HAUPTGhosting, in this case, is when you drop off candy and a note on somebody's doorstep, and then you pull a dingdong dash. So, you get out of sight before you're discovered. And so, this family that I spoke to has made it into this sort of mission. So, they're dressing up in all black, then they hit the streets in their D.C. neighborhood. Because, let me just say, they did start doing this at the very beginning of October, so they've made it kind of a month-long celebration.

  • 12:38:05

    NNAMDIGood grief. (laugh)

  • 12:38:06

    HAUPT(laugh) So, they're very quiet. You know, they go creeping up to these houses, and they drop off a candy. And the mother says that what they've learned is that they can typically hide somewhere nearby in earshot to listen to what they call their target come out into his confused wondering. So, they call these their Halloween missions. And, right now, the kids are actually saying it is better than Halloween in the past, especially because they get to do it so many times. Because they have turned it into, you know, a month-long celebration.

  • 12:38:38

    NNAMDIVery cool. How about the Capitol Hill family that plays a homemade Halloween Bingo game?

  • 12:38:44

    HAUPTYes. So this is a mother in Capitol Hill who has always loved Halloween, but she loves it for the costume creativity, you know, not for the candy. So, she made these amazing Bingo cards. Now, they say things like -- the squares say things like, a house that's playing Halloween music, a funny tombstone, a group costume, you know, a costume that's made out of cardboard. So, when they hit the streets on Halloween, the kids will have these Bingo cards.

  • 12:39:15

    HAUPTAnd every single time that they see one of these things then they get it fill out a Bingo square, they will get to pick a treat from a bag of candy that their mom packed. So, that removes some of the fear around, you know, taking candy from other homes, you know, from trick-or-treating. So, it's getting candy from their mom. It does supply that periodic candy jolt, as their mom put it. And when they complete an entire row, they earn a bigger prize. They get to pick five pieces of candy.

  • 12:39:42

    HAUPTAnd, you know, this mother has uploaded these Bingo cards onto a Google drive. We linked to that in my DCist story. You know, and every year, she takes lots of hard copies and she prints a sign that says, ask me about my Bingo cards. And so, she'll be handing them out on the streets. And she definitely encourages other people to join her in this tradition of, you know, playing Bingo on Halloween.

  • 12:40:04

    NNAMDIWhat about the Germantown family which is counting on a balloon launcher to help them celebrate Halloween safely? What's that about?

  • 12:40:11

    HAUPTNow, I just love this. So, this family, instead of going trick-or-treating, is doing what they call trick-and-treat. So, they painted toilet paper tubes black, and they attached paper wings, so they reinvented them into these little bats. And they stuff them with candy. So, when they go out, they are going to use a water balloon launcher to project the bat at their friends' and families' doors. And so, the thinking is that, you know, they project it, it's going to make a loud thump when it bangs against the front door. The hope is that that noise will prompt the residents to pop outside and discover the sugary surprise that is sitting on their doorstep.

  • 12:40:53

    NNAMDIThat's amazing.

  • 12:40:55

    HAUPTA very fun use for those water balloon launchers.

  • 12:40:59

    NNAMDIGenevieve from Kensington, Maryland emails: We'll be relying on our imaginations this Halloween. Our eight-year-old daughter and three-year-old son will be trick-or-treating at every door inside and outside of our home. My husband and I will be rushing from one door to the next with treats. Well, Genevieve, great idea. Good luck with that. You and your husband will probably be tired. Here is Chris in Warrington, Virginia. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:41:29

    CHRISThank you, Kojo. Thank you for having us. As Halloween is coming and winter's approaching, many of the wineries in Northern Virginia are allowing their facilities and, in our situation, old houses to be rented by the room. Meaning you can have, for free, a room space for four, six, eight, 10 people in a kind of a private environment to enjoy local wines, to encourage the local farmers to have their products at something of a semi-protected environment inside, as well.

  • 12:42:00

    NNAMDIOh, very interesting. Thank you very much or sharing that information with us. On now to Darcy in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Darcy, your turn.

  • 12:42:10

    DARCYHi. Great to talk with you. I really enjoy your show.

  • 12:42:15

    NNAMDIThank you.

  • 12:42:15

    DARCYI'm going to be getting together with some people at a parking lot at a pool. And we're going to park our cars and it's going to be like a trunk-or-treat, except instead of having people come up to our trunks to get candy, we're going to have these weird creative -- because this is a creative group of people. So, we're going to have creative ways to not touch any -- you know, not have a bowl of candy. Like, I'm pretty sure there's going to be at least one (word?).

  • 12:42:47

    DARCYAnd my husband and my daughter built sort of a -- it's going to look like a robot, and it's -- or it looks like a robot and it has a motion detector mechanism. So, if you put your hand under the light, it'll just -- a mechanized arm will push the candy out and down into a chute, and then you can catch it. So, stuff like that.

  • 12:43:17

    NNAMDII'm glad you brought that up, Darcy. Thank you very much for your call. Because, Angela Haupt, let's talk about candy chutes. What are they, and why are so many people making them?

  • 12:43:28

    HAUPTOh, yes. So, this is a great development this year. Now, think about when you go to the drive-in at the bank and you get your money out of one of those automatic tubes. Candy chute is much the same, but it's for candy. So, it's a tube that attaches in the front of someone's house so that the candy can be slid down to trick-or-treaters totally contact-free.

  • 12:43:49

    HAUPTSo, I spoke to one woman in the Brookland neighborhood, for example, who loves Halloween. She always has, and she typically gets more than 100 trick-or-treaters each year. And she said it just made her so sad to think that because of the pandemic, you know, she wouldn't be able to see those trick-or-treaters, to give out candy. And she started thinking, you know, how can we still do this in a safe or socially distanced way?

  • 12:44:13

    HAUPTSo, she got some salvage material, just for a couple dollars. You know, it was recycled rain gutter parts actually, to make this tube that stretches all the way from her porch down to the sidewalk. And now, that's a total of about 15 feet, she said. And it's decorated. People are decorating these candy chutes as haunted forest pieces, or cobras. You know, you can really get imaginative with it. And so, on Halloween, she will be standing up on her porch, and she'll put little gift-wrapped bags of candy. She'll send them down to the sidewalk where the trick-or-treaters can safely receive them.

  • 12:44:51

    HAUPTAnd these have become so popular, that some communities are even making maps, you know, Google Maps where a family can pull them up and see exactly which homes have the candy chutes that they can hit when they go out on Halloween.

  • 12:45:03

    NNAMDIVery cool. Joining us now is Quinchela Dent-Hess, who is a member of the Mocha Moms Chapter in Loudoun County. Quinchela Dent-Hess, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:45:14

    QUINCHELA DENT-HESSYeah, thank you for having me.

  • 12:45:16

    NNAMDIBefore we hear about your family's Halloween plans, could you tell us about Mocha Moms, for those who are not familiar with it?

  • 12:45:23

    DENT-HESSYes. Mocha Moms is a group that provides support for women of color as we journey through all phases of motherhood. We are very committed to community service and activism. Right now, we're encouraging everyone to get out and rock the vote. And there are other components of fun that we sprinkle in. We have a wellness club. I'm the lead of that. We have book clubs, theater and arts clubs, just to name a few. But it's really a strong support system for moms of color.

  • 12:45:54

    NNAMDIYeah, I was looking up and found that Mocha Moms was started in Prince George's County in 1997. And I remember talking to Jolene Ivy about Mocha Moms in maybe 1999. It's been around for a very long time. But, Quinchela, how...

  • 12:46:09

    DENT-HESSIt's been a long time.

  • 12:46:11 old are your children, and how does your family usually celebrate Halloween?

  • 12:46:16

    DENT-HESSI have two babies. My daughter is 11 years old, and my son is eight. And, in past years, we dressed up and gone through our neighborhood to trick-or-treat. We know all the hotspots, all the houses that really go above and beyond. So, that was our tradition, which is obviously going to be very different this year.

  • 12:46:37

    NNAMDIYeah, why did you decide not to trick-or-treat this year, and what are you doing instead?

  • 12:46:42

    DENT-HESSWell, instead of trick-or-treating outside this year, my daughter is actually going to have a Halloween sleepover with two of her really good girlfriends. They'll come in masks, of course. And we have filled piñatas with candy and other Halloween novelty items. We're going to hang those in the garage. So, they're going to have a really good time with that. And my son will be a part of that, as well.

  • 12:47:06

    DENT-HESSWe are going to bake Halloween cookies, order pizza, make some spooky punch for the girls and watch scary movies. We going to wear costumes, and even have a Halloween fashion show. And then around 8:00 or 9:00, we're going to take my son upstairs and we'll hang out with him, so the girls can kind of have their time together.

  • 12:47:27

    DENT-HESSBut there are two reasons we're doing it differently this year. First is due to COVID, of course. We want to make sure that we can keep our household as safe as possible. And the second reason is just due to the political climate right now, we don't want to expose our kids to anything hurtful that may be disguised as Halloween decorations.

  • 12:47:52

    DENT-HESSAs you've seen, people are very bold and brazen right now with their actions this political season. And I just don't want to take my children out at night during Halloween. I don't want them to see any figures that may be hanging from trees or any disparaging messages about black lives matter or anything else along those lines. I certainly don't want them to be mistakenly perceived as a threat in their Halloween costumes. Those are just things that I certainly have to consider as a mom of two black children, especially with one being a little boy.

  • 12:48:28

    NNAMDIOkay. One now to the phones. Here's Pedro in Glen Burnie, Maryland. Pedro, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:48:35

    PEDROGood afternoon, Kojo. Like your previous caller said, I myself decided that I will keep my children at home. And a few weeks ago, we had a birthday party. So, we took on the idea of making a Halloween piñata. So, I just went down to my local Hispanic store and bought a piñata, modified it, and that's how we're going to enjoy trick-or-treating versus going out -- for children, of course, only.

  • 12:49:01

    NNAMDIHow did your children respond to that? Do they like the idea?

  • 12:49:06

    PEDROYes. Two of my children, one is (word?), and the other one is a year-and-a-half. So, they're still very young. My two nieces, they're eight and eleven. (unintelligible)

  • 12:49:20

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Onto Ayise, (ph) in Silver Spring, Maryland. Ayise, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:49:29

    AYISEPeace, brother Kojo. Thanks for a good show, as usual. So, we don't want to encourage our young folks to dress up as ghosts and goblins, demons and witches. We're going to have them dress up for -- we're doing a great person historical ball. And so folk will dress up maybe as Angela Davis or Malcolm X. And we're doing it online. And if folk are interested, this is with our organization, it's

  • 12:49:57

    AYISEAnd, you know, again, we're going to give out prizes for best dressed and, you know, even a guessing game, historical guessing game. You know, some folk put on their afro wig and, you know, platforms.

  • 12:50:12

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Yeah, you got to get that Angela Davis hair just right, (laugh) if you're going to be correct. But that's a very interesting idea, Ayise, for children to think of historical figures, because it not only helps them to dress it, but it also teaches them something. So, great idea. Thank you very much for your call. Angela Haupt, like Quinchela Dent-Hess’s family, you've talked to others who are planning to stay at home for Halloween. Could you tell us about the family who made it into a month-long cinematic celebration?

  • 12:50:47

    HAUPTYes, absolutely. So, a woman out in Ruston who has about four kids turned it into a Halloween movie marathon. So, every Saturday night in October, the family sits down in front of the TV. And they recently watched “Ghostbusters,” for example. And next up, they have movies like “Little Shop of Horrors” and “ET” and their very favorite, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” But, of course, part of the fun is that they are paring the movies with really good food.

  • 12:51:15

    HAUPTSo, when they watched “Ghostbusters,” for example, they had marshmallows and popcorn and mini-theater-style boxes of candy, and my absolute favorite, which is edible slime. And so, if this also sounds appealing to you, this mother tells me that Jell-o makes a great version, where all you need to do is add some water, and you've got your Halloween slime.

  • 12:51:40

    NNAMDIGood grief. (laugh) We should talk about masks. Some parents might think Halloween is the perfect pandemic holiday, because their children will be wearing costume masks that will cover their faces. You spoke to a pediatrician about this. What did she say?

  • 12:51:56

    HAUPTYes. She said a Halloween mask is not COVID-friendly mask. So, no matter what you do when you go out to celebrate, you must wear a cloth face covering to help prevent spread of this disease. So, you know, as much as it's fun to dress up in a Halloween mask, it doesn't replace that cloth mask that you still need to be wearing.

  • 12:52:19

    NNAMDIHere's Lauren in Washington, D.C. Lauren, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:52:23

    LAURENHi. I'm with the National Confectioners Association. Happy Halloween. And we have plenty of safe and creative ways for people to celebrate the Halloween season this year, and America's chocolate and candy companies are taking the guesswork out of how to celebrate safely. We're so excited, and you can go to to find some fun and safe creative ideas. I know we've heard so many already from so many of your callers.

  • 12:52:49

    NNAMDIAnd to find as much sugar as you've ever wanted in your life, huh? (laugh)

  • 12:52:54

    LAUREN(laugh) Well, you know, Halloween this year will definitely be different, and we'll all need to be socially distanced, but that doesn't mean we have to be socially awkward. I was reading a column in Forbes, and the writer wrote something like, if 2020 is the weirdest year and Halloween is the weirdest Halloween, then that makes Halloween 2020 a Halloween like no other.

  • 12:53:12

    LAURENAnd there's no question that Halloween will look different this year. But there are so many innovative approaches endorsed by the CDC, like outdoor one-way trick-or-treating is one option. We've heard of people making the candy chutes, or even people trick-or-treating within their own backyard. There's so many ways to bring a little bit of fun to this weekend.

  • 12:53:33

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Jonathan Heisey-Grove, for parents who are letting their children trick-or-treat this year or for those who are thinking about it for next year, how do you decide when your child is ready to go door-to-door without you?

  • 12:53:48

    HEISEY-GROVEThat's a great question. It really depends on the conversations you have with your children and the expectations that you set with them. If you are having an honest, one-on-one conversation with them and you tell them what the parameters are, like where you can go, who you can be with, and you set a timeframe that they have to be back by, give them the tools that they need to do it, by all means, let your children out and go.

  • 12:54:20

    HEISEY-GROVEBut, you know, don't assume that your kids are free to go out on their own without some sort of parental encouragement and intervention in how they do it. Know who the friends are that they're going with. Have conversations with the parents of the kids that are going, so everybody is on the same page as to who is going out and where are you going. It really -- and with any other thing in life, you just have to be honest with your children and make sure that they understand what your expectations are. And that way, they can have a safe Halloween, and we can, as well.

  • 12:55:00

    NNAMDIJonathan Heisey-Grove, Angela Haupt and Quinchela Dent-Hess, thank you all for joining us. This segment on Halloween in the age of COVID was produce by Lauren Markoe, and our conversation about polling was produced by Julie Depenbrock.

  • 12:55:14

    NNAMDIComing up Friday on The Politics Hour, with just days from the election, we'll talk about all the ways to vote, as well as the recent protests following the death of Karon Hylton, who died in a scooter crash after an interaction with police. Plus, we sit down with Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer to talk about a bill to offer tax incentives to developers who build housing on top of Metro stations. And we'll get an update on COVID-19 in the county. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening, and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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