Los Angeles County says trick-or-treating is 'not recommended' this Halloween — health experts weigh in

Updated, 4:45 p.m.: On Wednesday, Los Angeles County updated its guidelines to make trick-or-treating an activity that is “not recommended,” whereas previously it had been deemed “not permitted.”

“Door-to-door trick-or-treating is not recommended because it can be very difficult to maintain proper social distancing on porches and at front doors, ensure that everyone answering or coming to the door is appropriately masked to prevent disease spread, and because sharing food is risky,” the new, less stringent guidelines, which also moved trick-or-treating from “not permitted” to “not recommended,” now state. Parties and events including haunted houses remain “not permitted.”

Los Angeles County has banned trick-or-treating and Halloween parties for its residents this year over COVID-19 concerns.

L.A. County is cracking down on trick-or-treating this Halloween because of the pandemic. (Photo: Getty Creative stock image)
L.A. County is cracking down on trick-or-treating this Halloween because of the pandemic. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) released its official “Guidance for Celebrating Halloween” earlier this week. In the guidance, the LACDPH broke down what is “not permitted” this holiday season:

• Door-to-door trick-or-treating is not allowed because it can be very difficult to maintain proper social distancing on porches and at front doors, especially in neighborhoods that are popular with trick-or-treaters.

• “Trunk-or-treating” events in which children go from car to car instead of door to door to receive treats are also not allowed.

• Gatherings or parties with non-household members are not permitted even if they are conducted outdoors.

• Carnivals, festivals, live entertainment and haunted house attractions are not allowed.

However, county officials said that residents will be permitted to participate in online parties and contests, car parades (like drive-by events or drive-through Halloween displays) and Halloween movie nights at drive-in theaters. Residents will also be allowed to enjoy Halloween-themed meals at outdoor restaurants and dress up their homes and yards with Halloween-themed decorations.

Los Angeles County has struggled with COVID-19 cases, although they seem to be declining. According to the most recent data available, the county experienced 439 new cases of the virus on Tuesday and seven deaths. At its peak in mid-July, the county saw more than 3,500 new cases of COVID-19 in a single day. Students in the county are doing remote-only learning this fall due to the virus.

Even so, the trick-or-treating ban has been met with backlash online, with people on social media calling the move “sad” and “terrible.” The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health did not respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment.

The coronavirus pandemic is disrupting traditional Halloween celebrations. (Photo: Getty Creative stock image)
The coronavirus pandemic is disrupting traditional Halloween celebrations. (Getty Creative stock image)

While the move isn’t exactly popular with the general public, health experts said it makes sense.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. “In this kind of holiday festivity, there will be a lot of running around and kids on their own. It’s difficult to make sure everyone is being careful.”

Dr. Danelle Fisher, an L.A. County resident and a pediatrician and vice chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., agrees. “As a mom, I’m sad. Halloween is canceled and my son is 8. Halloween matters to him,” she says. “But as a physician, it makes sense. The numbers here are a little too scary.”

“It doesn’t seem very safe going to other people’s houses,” Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease specialist and professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Life. “We need some clever alternatives.”

“I never thought as an epidemiologist I would think about trick-or-treating as a potential hazard,” Henry F. Raymond, associate director for public health at the Rutgers School of Public Health, tells Yahoo Life. “But you’re going door to door. You’re maximizing possible exposure based on the number of people you come into contact with, and you’re also putting people in their houses handing out candy at risk.”

But Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, isn’t convinced that trick-or-treating will cause a major outbreak if people follow the right precautions. “I don’t think you’re going to see much transmission from one hour of trick-or-treating when people are in fleeting contact, if they follow social distancing and wear face coverings,” he says. “I don’t think it will be a major risk compared to other activities that go on around Halloween, like people going to bars and having parties.”

Some experts say that regulations around Halloween may be established elsewhere too. “I think more places will do this, especially if the number of COVID cases resurges,” Dr. Trish Garcia, a hospitalist and pediatrician at Connecticut Children’s, tells Yahoo Life.

Fisher agrees. “I think if other areas are responsible, they would do the same thing,” she says.

Other experts expect a middle ground. “I do expect more areas to follow L.A. County’s guidance on the matter,” Dr. Ashanti Woods, a pediatrician at Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. “However, as rates of COVID-19 differ by geographic region, I do anticipate that some areas may not be as strict as L.A. County and may allow outdoor candy disbursement in parking lots or parks with social distance guidelines being followed.”

Ultimately, it comes down to what is happening in any given area, Raymond says. “I would hope that public health officials will make good decisions based on their local data,” he says. “It should be on a case-by-case basis.”

While Adalja doesn’t think a large number of areas will also have as strict restrictions put in place, he does think there may be a lot of “modifications” to Halloween celebrations this year.

Schaffner agrees. “There may, at least, be a lot of advisories that come out, just like there were lots of advisories that came out before Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day,” he says. “But a lot of people ignore them.”

If trick-or-treating is permitted in your town or city, Schaffner recommends making sure that COVID-19 cases in your area are low. It’s also important that you and your household wear masks and trick-or-treat as a family.

People who hand out candy should also wear face coverings, Schaffner says. “Everyone needs to be very, very careful,” he says.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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