Florida health chief warns that trick-or-treating is 'high-risk' activity during COVID-19
Brevard County's top health official warns that traditional trick-or-treating is a high-risk activity during the current coronavirus pandemic.
Another warning: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says screaming at a haunted house or a scary movie can amplify the spread of COVID-19, so social distancing of 6 feet apart may not be enough in those settings.
"It's up to each individual parent to decide what risk they're willing to take for their child," said Maria Stahl, administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Brevard County, during the county's most recent Facebook Live briefing on COVID-19. "The traditional trick-or-treat activities are definitely in the high-risk category."
Stahl cited CDC guidance in listing door-to-door trick-or-treating as among the high-risk Halloween activities, along with such things as hayrides and Halloween parties where there is no social distancing.
"It's back to what risk are you willing to take for yourself and your child with the Halloween activities," Stahl said.
Stahl also said a Halloween costume mask does not offer the same protection from the spread of COVID-19 as a protective face mask does.
Additionally, she cited CDC guidance urging people not to wear a costume mask over a protective cloth mask, because it can be dangerous if the costume mask makes it hard to breathe. Instead, Stahl said, people putting on a costume for Halloween should consider using a decorated protective cloth mask.
The CDC guidance also lists these as among the "higher-risk activities" people should avoid to help prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19:
- Having a "trunk-or-treat" event, where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots.
- Going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming.
- Traveling to a rural fall festival that is not in your community, if you live in an area with community spread of COVID-19.
The CDC lists these as among "moderate-risk activities" for Halloween:
- Participating in "one-way trick-or-treating," where individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up for families to grab and go while continuing to social distance, such as at the end of a driveway or at the edge of a yard.
- Having a small-group, outdoor, open-air costume parade, where people are distanced more than 6 feet apart.
- Attending a costume party held outdoors where protective masks are used and people can remain more than 6 feet apart.
- Visiting pumpkin patches or orchards where people use hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins or picking apples; wearing masks is encouraged or enforced; and people are able to maintain social distancing.
- Having an outdoor Halloween movie night with local family friends, with people spaced at least 6 feet apart.
- Going to an open-air, one-way, walk-through haunted forest where appropriate mask use is enforced and people can remain more than 6 feet apart.
The CDC advises that, "if screaming will likely occur, greater distancing is advised. The greater the distance, the lower the risk of spreading a respiratory virus."
The CDC said these are "lower-risk activities" that can be safe alternatives for Halloween:
- Carving or decorating pumpkins with members of your household and displaying them.
- Carving or decorating pumpkins outside, at a safe distance, with neighbors or friends.
- Decorating your residence.
- Doing a Halloween scavenger hunt, where children are given lists of Halloween-themed things to look for while they walk outdoors, from house to house, admiring Halloween decorations at a distance.
- Having a scavenger hunt-style trick-or-treat search with your household members in or around your home, rather than going house to house.
- Having a "virtual" Halloween costume contest.
- Having a Halloween movie night with people you live with.
Brevard County Communications Director Don Walker said the county does not have a specific policy related to Halloween celebrations. Walker said residents of one of Brevard's 16 cities or towns should check with their municipalities to see if they have their own guidelines, such as hours for trick-or-treating.
Celebration plans change
A recently released survey commissioned by the National Retail Federation found that more than three-quarters of the respondents say the coronavirus is impacting their Halloween celebration plans.
Overall, the percentage of people who plan to celebrate Halloween at all fell to 58%, down from 68% in 2019.
This year, even among those who do celebrate Halloween, plans for parties, trick-or-treating, handing out candy and visiting haunted houses have dropped, largely because some activities do not easily adhere to social distancing.
- 62% said they would hand out candy, down from 69% a year ago.
- 23% said they would be involved in trick-or-treating, down from 29%.
- 22% said they would throw or attend a Halloween party, down from 32%.
- 15% said they would visit a haunted house, down from 22%.
Among the "safe-at-home" Halloween activities showing gains in participation this year are decorating the house (53% of those celebrating Halloween will do that), carving a pumpkin (46%) and dressing up a pet in a costume (18%).
The three most popular costumes for pets, according to the National Retail Federation survey: pumpkin, hot dog and superhero.
Dave Berman is government editor at FLORIDA TODAY.
Contact Berman at 321-242-3649 or email@example.com. Twitter: @bydaveberman