Halloween Events Are Changing As CDC Guidelines Outline COVID-19 Risks

Zee Krstic
·10 mins read

From Good Housekeeping

  • After officials at the CDC released new Halloween guidelines, health experts and local officials across the nation are working to change community events.

  • Los Angeles County officials first banned trick-or-treating activities outright, before revising their stance to discourage residents from doing so.

  • Event organizers from New England to Texas are reacting to new guidelines by adjusting their events or canceling them altogether.

  • We're sharing a curated list of events and traditions that have been impacted across the country due to COVID-19.

Some cities may be forced to create rules and regulations around Halloween festivities this year as new cases of novel coronavirus continue to plague Americans. Health officials have long predicted a new surge in COVID-19 cases in the fall, as temperatures drop and the flu season approaches — all while celebrations, including Halloween, fast approach.

California health officials in Los Angeles County have already made headlines as one of the first groups to mandate new rules and regulations around Halloween. As the Los Angeles Times reports, officials tried to issue an outright ban on trick-or-treating altogether, telling residents that it would be near impossible to maintain safe social distance if everyone took to the streets on the same night. But officials had to reverse some of their new rules after facing a public outcry: "Even a pandemic can't cancel Halloween," L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn told the Times.

New guidance established by officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will likely push local event organizers to adapt their events, however. Even if local events aren't canceled or adapted, it may benefit those at risk for severe complications to stay home this year. Elderly individuals and those with compromised immune systems are at greater risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms should they contract the disease. According to the CDC, these individuals should limit attending public events:

  • Chronic conditions: Anyone suffering from kidney disease, cancer, type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular issues, particularly for obese individuals, are at great risk.

  • Underlying medical conditions: Asthma and high blood pressure may put you at higher risk for severe complications.

  • Heart conditions: Especially for children, as those with neurologic, genetic, or congenital heart disease could be "at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 compared to other children."

Skipping Halloween festivities is best for kids with a complex medical history, or at the very least, guardians should plan on speaking with a healthcare professional beforehand.

Which Halloween activities are canceled this year?

Each and every state, city, and county will have different guidance in place to keep the spread of coronavirus in check. But you can expect most local guidance to be based on national recommendations made by the CDC. These guidelines have changed over time; initially, there were suggested limits on how many people should gather in one place, and suggested self-quarantines for those who traveled.

Currently, specific crowd limitations have been replaced by tips for maintaining social distance and limiting the amount of individuals in one shared airspace — plus advice for controlling crowds before, during, and after the event takes place. Plus, CDC officials have split all events into various risk categories to help organizers plan a lower risk gathering.

Here are COVID-19 transmission risk categories for events, per the CDC:

  • Lowest risk: Virtual-only gatherings, including digital video conferences and costume contests held over Zoom. Carving pumpkins and displaying decorations inside your home and on your porch or in the backyard is also associated as low-risk, as well as scavenger hunts that keep little ones close.

  • Moderate risk: Small outdoor gatherings where individuals can remain six feet apart while wearing face masks apply here. The CDC maintains that one-way trick-or-treating (where goodie bags are lined up at the edge of a driveway) holds lower risk than regular trick-or-treating. Visiting pumpkin patches or orchards with masks and hand sanitizer fall in this category, as well as well-designed outdoor mazes or haunted "forests" where people can remain 6-feet apart. The CDC makes a special note on any activity where screaming is expected: "The greater the distance, the lower the risk of spreading a respiratory virus."

  • Higher risk: Includes traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children at your doorstep (including trunk-or-treat events). Indoor costume parties fall into this category, as does indoor haunted houses where people may be screaming. Even some outdoor activities are considered especially risky: Those going on "hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household," as well as those who wish to travel to another destination for a fall festival (especially if there's local COVID-19 spread in your hometown).

  • Other factors that determine risk on an individual basis: The final amount of people at any event, the amount of vulnerable or particularly at-risk guests in attendance, the size of the location, and local transmission rates and new cases in the area.

With the CDC's guidelines in mind, it's safe to say that some Halloween traditions will likely not be safe during the pandemic, and could be restricted moving forward. Haunted houses, for one, put an elevated amount of people in poorly ventilated areas that are short on space. Halloween parties or events, like those at schools or community centers, will look vastly different this year, if they're held at at all. And given that some states have travel restrictions to keep new cases at bay (CNN has published a full list of restrictions here), any sort of long-distance travel for Halloween tours in spooky locales will be more difficult, as well as risky.

Places where Halloween events are changing or canceled:

Some cities have already announced cancellations and new regulations surrounding Halloween events this year. Certain events may be already canceled or postponed due to current gathering restrictions in place in each state, which you can learn more about using AARP's master guide to state-by-state crowd restrictions right here.

We're sharing the highlights of which Halloween events are being impacted as we get closer to October 31st, and we'll update this list with more information as it becomes available.

  1. Los Angeles County, California: A new health order issued by the Department of Public Health has mandated that any large gatherings or parties open to the public — either indoors or outside — won't be permitted. Festivals, haunted houses, carnivals, and other attractions will not be allowed to operate this year (Disneyland's Oogie Boogie Bash has already been canceled). Officials have reversed their decision on door-to-door trick-or-treat activities, and will allow car parades and drive-in movie theaters to operate on Halloween, as well as themed meals at outdoor restaurants.

  2. New York, New York: Health officials have yet to release specific guidelines or regulations for Halloween, the city's Greenwich Village Halloween Parade (the largest public participatory event in the country, according to the New York Post) has been canceled. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told members of the press that he wouldn't consider a state-wide ban on trick-or-treating earlier this month.

  3. Salem, Massachusetts: One of New England's most iconic Halloween destinations, Salem won't host many of its "Haunted Happenings" parades and festivals, as Phase 3 of Massachusetts reopening guidelines limit indoor gatherings to 25 people, and outdoor events to less than 100. Boston.com reports that shopping will still be allowed and several attractions like museums and restaurants will be open with reduced capacities.

  4. Chicago, Illinois: While the state has yet to release specific guidelines for Halloween festivities, the Chicago Tribune reports that city suburbs like Highwood have already called off its annual Pumpkin Festival, and more area happenings are expected to follow. Illinois' emergency COVID-19 guidelines prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people at any one time.

  5. San Diego County, California: Health officials have told journalists at local affiliate CBS8 that officials are waiting on new rules from the CDC before making official recommendations; one option they're exploring is drive-thru Halloween events in place of gatherings where people would normally be on foot, a similar approach that school officials took to 2020's graduation season.

  6. Laconia, New Hampshire: One of the nation's largest pumpkin carving events, the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival, has been canceled, according to the Laconia Daily Sun. Event organizers may transition to smaller, intimate pumpkin-focused events throughout the entire month of October.

  7. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: One of the state's most popular Halloween attractions, the Wisconsin Feargrounds, will open next week with new safety precautions and vastly reduced attendance. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also reports that some city suburbs are rethinking annual trick-or-treating, like in Antigo, where a scary movie drive-in event is being promoted.

  8. Detroit, Michigan: Just outside of the city, the Hallowe'en in Henry Ford's Greenfield Village in Dearborn is being reimagined for its 40th anniversary. The Detriot Free Press reports that it will allow guests to stroll at their leisure and even ride a train, but won't have its annual dining or family-friendly events.

  9. Orlando, Florida: Some of the first major Halloween events to be canceled were annual celebrations held at major theme parks in Florida, USA Today reports. State officials have yet to release specific guidelines, but Disney's Not So Scary Halloween Party is off and Universal Studios also recently announced the closure of its Halloween Horror Nights. The theme parks' counterparts in California also followed suit.

  10. Anoka, Minnesota: Minneapolis-based CBS affiliate KSTP reports that the self-proclaimed "Halloween Capital of the World" has been holding annual community events since 1920, but has adapted it's 100th celebration due to the pandemic. The suburb's festival organizers tell the station that they've pivoted to a drive-by model, where families can drive past the Grand Day Parade as it remains stationary in one place, with socially distanced marshals and performers.

  11. Arlington, Texas: Six Flags has also reportedly re-envisioned its Halloween events at most of its theme parks across the nation, including Six Flags Over Texas just outside of Dallas. The new event is designed to keep risks low, and gets rid of mazes, haunted houses and indoor shows, and reduces the amount of live actors in the park, according to Fox News.

How to keep your family safe this Halloween:

Thankfully, the risks associated with heading out in your neighborhood can be greatly reduced with some planning ahead of Halloween. If you're wanting to get out and trick or treat with your children in your local neighborhood, health experts say keeping your group limited to those living in your home (or in your pandemic "bubble") can reduce the risk of spread. You'll need to be prepared to keep your hands sanitized, avoid touching your face as much as possible, and work to practice keeping toys or costumes away from others with your kids beforehand. Of course, you'll also need to keep a mask on while outside of your home — and your kids will need to do so too, which shouldn't be too hard given how many costumes can be made better thanks to a mask this year.

For more planning tips and answers to frequently asked questions about Halloween during the pandemic, check out advice from top infectious disease experts in our trick-or-treating guide below.

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