CADILLAC — Talk about scary: trick-or-treating is considered by public health agencies to be a high-risk activity this Halloween.
"The questions are starting to trickle in," said Jeannine Taylor, public information officer with District Health Department No. 10, which covers Wexford, Missaukee and Lake counties. "Halloween is going to look a little different this year."
Taylor said with the start of flu season coinciding with the start of fall and the Halloween holiday, it's more important than ever to remain vigilant about social distancing, wearing masks and taking other precautions to avoid contracting the coronavirus.
"Getting both the flu and COVID would be extremely hard for both individuals and health care providers to deal with," Taylor said. "2020 has been a difficult year ... COVID has affected the traditions we all know and enjoy ... but COVID is still present and a concern."
Many area municipalities such as the city of Cadillac post suggested trick-or-treating hours but city manager Marcus Peccia said as far as the actual activity goes, it's entirely up to individuals if they want to participate or not.
"Halloween is not a formal or official city sanctioned event, but rather a nationally recognized holiday," Peccia said. "Other than annually sharing suggested hours for trick-or-treating along with safety tips, the city has no further involvement or ability to cancel Halloween or restrict the free movement of its residents. All residents who participate, however, should adhere to any public health recommendations and/or requirements from the District Health Department No. 10, State of Michigan, and CDC. Recommendations and/or requirements are likely to include things such as wearing a mask and social distancing."
Peccia said the city will release its customary public service announcement regarding Halloween when it is closer to the date, likely on or around Oct. 26.
In terms of how COVID-19 will affect what people actually do on Halloween, Taylor said their advice for the community is to follow the recommendations of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which on Thursday issued their official guidance for trick-or-treaters, parents and homeowners.
While MDHHS suggests not trick-or-treating at all this year, for those that do, they offer some tips to maximize safety.
Advice for homeowners includes not handing out candy if you're sick, wearing a face mask covering your mouth and nose, using duct tape to mark six-foot lines in front of the home and leading to driveway/front door, positioning a distribution table between yourself and trick-or-treaters, distributing candy on a disinfected table to eliminate direct contact, handing out candy in an open space where distancing is possible, rather than from the front door, and considering a neighborhood costume parade — an easy way to keep safe space between children.
MDHHS also suggests parents share with their children that this year may be different than last but let them know some of the new ways you plan to celebrate and still have lots of fun.
Low-risk Halloween activities listed by the CDC include the following: 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 house, apartment, or living space; 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 virtual Halloween costume contest; having a Halloween movie night with people you live with; and having a scavenger hunt-style trick-or-treat search with your household members in or around your home rather than going house to house.
Additional advice includes talking with children about safety and social distancing guidelines and expectations, keeping a six-foot distance from others not in your group, 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) and guiding children to stay to the right to ensure social distancing.
Wearing a costume mask might not be the best idea this year: the CDC notes that a costume mask (such as for Halloween) is not a substitute for a cloth mask. A costume mask should not be used unless it is made of two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers the mouth and nose and doesn’t leave gaps around the face. MDHHS suggests not wearing a costume mask over a protective cloth mask if wearing both causes difficulty breathing. Instead, consider using a Halloween-themed cloth mask.
Besides trick-or-treating, other high-risk activities identified by the CDC include the following: having trunk-or-treat where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots; attending crowded costume parties held indoors; going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming; going on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household; using alcohol or drugs, which can cloud judgement and increase risky behaviors; and 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 guidance also urges Michiganders to consider hosting virtual parties instead of in-person Halloween gatherings. If a gathering is hosted, it should be limited to 10 people or less per Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order, social distancing should be maintained, cloth masks should be worn and food and party favors should be set out individually to prevent cross contamination.