As the Halloween season approaches, people across the country may be asking themselves “should we stay, or should we go?”
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The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health made headlines Wednesday after it prohibited Halloween activities, like trick-or-treating, and later revised its guidelines to say celebrations are permitted, but are not recommended.
Though some amusement parks and cities have modified their seasonal celebrations, L.A. County’s short-lived ban appears to be the first attempt from a major municipality to pause trick-or-treating due to the pandemic.
But as the Halloween season approaches, people across the country may be asking themselves “should we stay, or should we go?” In a year that’s been terrifying in its own real-life ways, some parents want to let their kids celebrate while cities are hoping to continue with holiday traditions to boost residents’ spirits. Yet medical experts caution that the threat of coronavirus still looms. At the end of August, members of Congress asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide direction on the safety of Halloween activities in a letter to director Dr. Robert R. Redfield. As of Sept. 11, the CDC has not yet released updated guidelines.
Dr. Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Health and UC Davis Children’s Hospital, says families should avoid trick-or-treating amid the pandemic. He says even in areas with a low risk of transmission, the door-to-door activity could spur an outbreak.
“I just don’t see how it’s feasible to do this safely,” he says. It’s not realistic to think children will be able to maintain social distancing recommendations, as they walk around in groups and are handed treats, he says. And while masks help mitigate spread, they “don’t eliminate risk.”
Carrie Ware, a 40-year-old mother of three from Gilbert, Ariz., says she would be “really upset” and “highly disappointed” if trick-or-treating was banned in her town.
“Enough is enough, and we need to leave it up to the parents and the people whether or not they want to participate,” Ware says.
Ware is not alone in her support of continuing the tradition. According to a Harris Poll survey conducted in June for the National Confectioners Association, 90% of millennial moms and young parents and 80% of the general public “say they can’t imagine Halloween without chocolate and candy and trick-or-treating is irreplaceable.” In addition, findings show that “74% of millennial moms and young parents say that Halloween is more important than ever this year.”
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Ware plans to take her daughters Chanel, 15, and Charlize, 12, and son Cash, 8, trick-or-treating as she has done in years past, as long as it’s allowed. She’ll be equipped with hand sanitizer and wearing a mask. For Ware, it’s about seizing the time she has with her children while she can, acknowledging the window with her older daughters is shrinking.
“They get older and they have different hobbies and habits, and then they go out with their friends and they go off to college,” she says, “I want to cherish all those small amazing moments in their lives while I can.”
Dr. Sandra Kesh, an infectious disease physician at Westmed Medical Group in Purchase, New York, says it’s possible to safely trick-or-treat this year, but there are caveats. She says if COVID-19 is not well-controlled in your area, you should refrain. Local health departments and government websites typically offer public tracking of coronavirus infections, or you can ask your physician. Enclosed spaces, like apartment buildings, should be avoided, too, she says. Keep things outdoors.
Kesh advises limiting trick-or-treating to three or four kids. Before heading out, parents should ask if the family they are joining have been taking precautions and wearing masks. Parents can wipe down candy or let it sit for a couple days if they are worried about surface transmission of the virus.
“I think having a very serious conversation with your kids that if you are going to take them trick-or-treating, that the rules have to be followed and respected otherwise the game is over,” she says. She also recommends an adult chaperone even for older children to ensure safety protocols are being followed.
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Tonya Rivers’ children – Connor, 8, and Kaylee, 6, – were excited to pull out the Halloween decorations on Sept. 1. Inside Rivers’ Virginia Beach, Va. home stands a Christmas tree adorned with gap-toothed jack-o’-lanterns and skeletons and an illuminated, Halloween village. On Oct. 31 approximately 125 hand-carved foam pumpkins will dot her yard, along with bales of hay, lights and trees with googly eyes.
Rivers, 41, says a typical Halloween involves her in-laws “pumpkin sitting” (keeping an eye on the creations she and her kids have carved), while she and her husband take her children around the neighborhood. This year her plans depend on what regulations allow, and she says minimizing points of contact “is probably a good idea.”
She says she feels comfortable taking her children trick-or-treating because the candy is wrapped. Plus she wants to preserve as much normalcy as possible.
“Even if you can’t go trick-or-treat… still try to make a costume and you can make a scavenger hunt around the yard to find candy,” she says. “I think there’s ways you can still incorporate the fun of it, even if you’re not allowed to go house-to-house or anything.”
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Annual Halloween events across Southern California such as Knott’s Scary Farm, Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights, Disneyland’s Oogie Boogie Bash and the Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor have all been canceled because of COVID-19 concerns, according to the Desert Sun, part of the USA TODAY Network.
In Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the City of Antigo replaced trick-or-treating with a scary movie drive-in event. Elsewhere in the state, the Wisconsin Feargrounds, a popular haunted house attraction, will be open starting Oct. 2 with added safety precautions.
In Danville, Vt., the Burlington Free Press reports organizers of Dead North: Farmland of Terror are keeping the corn maze but axing live music and other entertainment. Henry Ford’s Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, is still on track, although without dining packages and other activities, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Anoka, Minn. planned to mark 100 years of Halloween celebrations this year. The self-proclaimed “Halloween Capital of the World,” the city held its first organized event in 1920 and has only skipped two years of celebrations – each during World War II.
Liz McFarland, president for Anoka Halloween’s board of directors, says the original vision for the centennial celebration was to be “bigger and better” than past celebrations.
Now, because of COVID-19, the Grand Day Parade held the last Saturday in October will be a stationary event where viewers drive by. “We have usually 15 marching bands come, about 180 floats come that day,” McFarland says. Typically the parade draws 60,000 people to the 18,000 person town.
McFarland says she encouraged her team to think of modified ways to celebrate safely.
“We were gonna make something happen, we just didn’t know what it was,” she says. “It’s our 100th year; we just did not want to cancel everything.”
David Wyatt, 47, of Austin, Texas doesn’t want to take any chances. He won’t be going trick-or-treating with 12-year-old son Miles.
“Our feeling is, if we can not go out, if we can not go to school – which we’re not – we just don’t,” Wyatt says. “We shouldn’t add to the general contagion and risk for ourselves or for others. We feel like it’ll be disappointing, but it’s just a simple sacrifice to make to just stay home.”
Instead, Wyatt says they might make the night more “of a gift-getting occasion,” with candy and maybe a few close friends and family.
“We just decided quick as a family it’s not worth it,” recalls Wyatt, “(Miles) even agreed at 12, like, ‘I can’t get out and just run free. There’s really no way to do that in a safe way.’”
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