It was bad enough for children when the coronavirus devastated two school years and the summer break. Then Halloween was canceled.
In an announcement last week, the Los Angeles County Department of Health banned trick or treating to prevent further spread of the virus. Following a quick public outcry, officials revised their guide the next day to say that going door-to-door or car-to-car was simply “not recommended” as “it can be very difficult to maintain adequate social distancing” and “because sharing food is risky”.
The scare in LA was enough to frighten parents and children in other cities who fear their own governments might prevent trick or treating this year. With the United States still deep in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic and a second wave of infections expected this fall, health experts fear that the inherent mixing of adults and children could exacerbate the spread of the community. But experts also fear the toll on families and children if they have to skip tradition, losing a source of much-needed social joy and connection.
“There have been a lot of things that have gone away for the children,” says Hansa Bhargava, pediatrician and senior medical director of WebMD. “That’s why I don’t want to take another thing away from him.” Advise families to examine the infection rate within their communities before deciding whether to trick or treat, and to consider less risky alternatives and modifications, if possible. The key, he says, is for parents to talk to their kids and help them understand that 2020 is an unusual year for Halloween celebrations.
Nearly a quarter of Americans still plan to trick-or-treat this year, up from 29% in 2019, according to the National Retail Federation’s Halloween Spending Survey conducted September 1-9. About two-thirds will distribute candy, down from 69% last year.
This year some are uncomfortable with the prospect of their children putting their hands in common candy buckets or grabbing treats from a range of neighbors and strangers whose level of Covid risk is unknown. Many people who don’t have young children see the risk of opening the door to hordes of hungry Elsa and Spider-Men. Yet it is not clear that trick or treating should be prohibited.
In much the same way that the US approach to reopening schools has been fragmented, the vision for Halloween 2020 differs from city to city, with no guidance yet from the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention despite the pressure from legislators. There is a detailed guide written, perhaps not so surprisingly, by the Hershey Co., which told the Wall Street Journal that the holiday makes up one-tenth of its annual $ 8 billion revenue, and that trick-or-treating makes up about half. of the company’s Halloween candy sales.
Halloween contagion problems surfaced earlier: in 1918, October 31 fell during one of the worst waves of the Spanish flu pandemic, prompting cities from San Francisco to St. Louis to ban the Halloween holidays as part of their general restrictions. on public gatherings.
Wherever trick-or-treating is allowed this year, it won’t be easy to minimize the risk.
“The whole community should follow the rules,” says Bhargava. “Parents should supervise their children to make sure they stay in their bubble, so that only one group of children gets to the door at a time.”
Among the first to ban the business after Los Angeles was Mayor Domenic Sarno of Springfield, Massachusetts, one of the largest cities in the state. He called the decision “child’s play” this week. “We are dealing with a pandemic here,” he said during an update on the coronavirus. “Would you like to put yourself and your son in danger? It makes absolutely no sense. “
In Illinois, the suburb of West Chicago canceled trick-or-treating on city property in the downtown area. Mayor Ruben Pineda, in a statement, called it a “painful decision” taken “in the best interest of all”.
Some officials have strongly assured their constituents that there will be no bans. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently said Halloween is still ongoing, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told News 12 Long Island that the restrictions seemed inadequate. “You have neighbors,” he said. “If you want to go knock on your neighbor’s door, God bless you. I’m not going to tell you not to. “He added that the state will draw up a guide but leave the decisions to individuals.
Officials elsewhere, like Chicago and San Francisco have expressed concern about the trick or treat but have not yet banned it.
Bhargava, as a pediatrician and herself a mother of teenagers, warns against a total ban on trick-or-treating, saying the restrictions should depend on both the community’s infection rate and the circumstances of the families themselves. Emphasize that if the festivities continue, it’s not just the physical health of the children at stake; the mental health of communities is at risk if shared experiences are canceled.
“Socialization is a stress reliever, and the lack of socialization has a major impact on children,” says Bhargava. “We know that anxiety and depression are for everyone, including parents.”
Celebrating Halloween doesn’t have to involve going from door to door. In an impromptu Twitter poll conducted by Bhargava, fellow pediatricians and parents offered alternatives, including “at home” trick-or-treating (where children go from room to room) and reverse trick-or-treating (with children standing by. in front of their houses as neighbors throw candy from their cars). A YouTube duo shows a six-foot “candy slide” made from a PVC tube, for distributing candy from a safe distance.
Meanwhile, Halloween celebrations in the United States have been curtailed, altered or canceled. The parades have been canceled, including the popular New York party ending in Greenwich Village, which draws more than 50,000 people annually.
Haunted house organizers are putting in place strict protocols, limiting the number of guests to allow for social distancing, enforcing the rules of masks, and instructing actors to strike terror from six feet away. An alternative is drive-in experiences.
Salem, Massachusetts – best known for its ties to the Salem witch trials – was forced to downsize its month-long Haunted Happenings celebration, including moving some online events and canceling major parades and fairs. way to adhere to the state reopening guidelines.
The timing for such precautions, however, couldn’t have been worse, says Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem. It promotes five weekends of celebration, spanning two full moons and including a Halloween Saturday this year. “We expected over half a million people to arrive this year,” he said. “It represents 30% of our annual tourist income”.
He adds that out-of-state visitors have still come in to dine and shop, giving a boost to local businesses but also fueling a mix of anxiety and anticipation in the 40,000-strong community. Salem has “health ambassadors” who distribute free masks and remind people to cover their faces.
Like the decisions facing parents, it’s a delicate balance for officials. The city wants to keep the Halloween spirit alive, but, says Fox, “I don’t want Salem to be a super spreader.”