Witches, warlocks and werewolves are taking a back seat to the COVID-19-causing coronavirus as the most frightening thing that may knock on doors this Halloween.
The pandemic is changing how the holiday has been celebrated for at least one century and perhaps as many as 10. From the Celts singing and dancing about fires blazing of stacked bones to poor folks knocking on the doors of the rich for food during the Middle Ages, parades, parties and bonfires are longtime, storied All Hallows’ Eve traditions.
The Virginia Department of Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Thomas Jefferson Health District all have issued guidelines that recommend no neighborhood trick-or-treating, no parties and definitely no indoor haunted houses.
“I know people are getting worn out and tired of this pandemic. I understand. It’s been my life for the past six months, but the truth is the parties and the gatherings really aren’t safe,” said Kathryn Goodman, of the Thomas Jefferson Health District. “It’s safest for people to celebrate Halloween with those people who live with them, to not celebrate in public but at home.”
Amid the pandemic, annual celebrations are being axed. University of Virginia’s Lawn residents canceled their popular community trick-or-treat event. Charlottesville and Albemarle County officials suggested families hang at home with activities such as scary Easter egg hunts with Halloween candy, family sightseeing tours of neighborhood decorations and Halloween bingo.
“Albemarle County residents are encouraged to opt for Halloween celebrations that put COVID-19 safety first this year. While Halloween activities are fun for the whole family, some options are high-risk for spreading COVID-19, especially trick-or-treating,” officials said in a news release.
Goodman said people who decide to pass out candy to tiny marauders should take precautions such as setting up a table lined with individual packages of pre-wrapped treats so that kids can grab a bag and go. Keeping activities outdoors is another way to mitigate risk.
“If you’re planning on handing out treats, put a sign on your mailbox or somewhere it can be easily read saying you’re giving treats or one that says you’re not, but come back next year,” Goodman said. “Keep the social distance rule of ‘six feet or no treat.’ Kids can step up to the table, get their prepackaged bag and step back.”
City officials echoed those sentiments, recommending homegrown gatherings of family members and socially distanced outdoor activities.
“When trick-or-treating, wear a mask. You can make it fun by making your mask part of your costume,” city officials said in a release.
For those who need to get out, there are some options. The city police department and the Charlottesville Police Foundation are sponsoring a trick-or-treat alternative with the Charlottesville Halloween Night Out. The drive-thru alternative party is from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Charlottesville High School.
There will be prizes for car decorations and distribution of candy and T-shirts. Masks and social distancing will be required.
The virus is on an upswing, with more cases being reported throughout the country, especially the Midwest and rural areas. Officials said the virus spreads when people are in close contact through respiratory droplets created when a person talks, sneezes, or coughs. It also can be spread through direct contact with droplets through shared eating utensils, glasses or bottles or kissing.
Since the summer, numerous studies in the United States and Europe have indicated that the coronavirus appears to transmit most easily through aerosols — tiny bits of fluid created by talking, laughing, singing and shouting that can linger in the air for minutes to hours.
Some studies have shown that a room with poor ventilation can become toxic and result in several people contracting the virus just from spending time in conversation.
That’s why health officials do not recommend the door-to-door solicitation, walking in large groups, parties or visiting indoor haunted houses likely to induce screams of delighted terror.
“Haunted houses involve people screaming, which is known to increase the production of respiratory droplets. Such activities are particularly risky for spreading COVID-19,” health department officials said. “Haunted houses should also avoid using actors that jump out at patrons, or ensure the actor maintains 10 feet of distancing between participants.”
Halloween became a big holiday celebration in the U.S. in the 20th century, with tricks growing more popular than treats during the 1920s and into the Great Depression. That led to organized community trick-or-treat activities and parent-chaperoned neighbor-to-neighbor excursions for children.
During World War II, rationing made candy scarce, leading to community parades and small, at-home events.
Goodman said the effects of COVID, and the ease with which it spreads, make it the most frightening beast in the neighborhood.
“We’ve seen that it impacts young people as well,” Goodman said. “The strange thing is it will impact two people of the same age and with the same medical history completely different. One may get a light case and the other could end up in the hospital.”
The virus originally was thought to primarily affect the lungs but has since been found to cause heart, kidney, liver and even cognitive issues.
“We won’t know for a long time what the long-term impacts of this virus are,” Goodman said.
COVID-19 will not only impact Halloween traditions, but Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, as well, she said.
“With the colder weather, it’s not going to be as easy to get out of doors,” Goodman said. “The virus spreads easily indoors, and people need to be extra careful. I know we’re getting COVID fatigue and are tired of hearing about it, tired of staying home and tired of not seeing our friends, but we have to keep this up for a while.”