As COVID-19 infections rise across the United States, California is battling to keep its rates and hospitalizations low. But much like the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holidays, this weekend’s Halloween celebrations — and the coinciding Mexican-American tradition of Día de Los Muertos — could lead to a rise in the disease if people don’t take the necessary precautions.
In Sacramento County, officials say Halloween isn’t canceled, it’s just got to be modified. They published Halloween safety guidelines back in September.
“We have put out messages of how to celebrate the holiday safely, especially because we know this is a holiday that is cherished, especially by children,” said county public health director Dr. Olivia Kasirye. “Fortunately a lot of the activities are outdoors, which tends to be safe.”
Sacramento County was hoping to get positivity rates low enough to “turn Sacramento orange by Halloween,” referring to the possibility of moving to a less restrictive tier according to the state’s blueprint for reopening the economy. But the positivity rate remains too high due to outbreaks at nursing facilities, so Sacramento is still in the red tier.
Both Halloween and Día de Los Muertos are traditionally celebrated in large groups. State and local officials are urging people not to gather, and to wear face coverings and stay apart if they do see people outside their household. Anyone who is experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, such as fever, cough, sore throat, body aches or loss of smell, should stay home.
Here’s what the experts say about Halloween and Day of the Dead:
Skip The Parties
Health officials say it’s not safe to gather indoors with people you don’t live with. Viral particles can build up in a room over time and infect others, even if some people are wearing face coverings or standing far away from one another. (You can see a visual demonstration of how viral particles travel indoors here.)
The state of California recently put out guidelines for outdoor gatherings, which recommend getting together with no more than three households for no more than two hours. They’re urging people to gather consistently with the same households so as to limit the risk of spreading infection from one social bubble to another.
Both Sacramento County and UC Davis have suggested alternatives to traditional parties:
Virtual party, scary movie watch or costume contest
Distanced outdoor costume parade
Contact-free neighborhood scavenger hunt
Making your home a haunted house
Drive-through Halloween displays or movies
Officials say it’s extremely important to stay in your own neighborhood this year, and to avoid interacting with people outside your immediate family. They say going to people’s doorsteps for candy is a recipe for COVID-19 spread.
“These activities involve face to face interactions with people from different households, and if an infection is detected among a participant, it will be very difficult to find and notify those who may have been exposed,” the state wrote in a recent message to the public.
If you do decide to go trick-or-treating in your own neighborhood, officials urge you to stay together as a family and not interact with other trick-or-treaters. As an alternative to giving out candy on doorsteps, the state, Sacramento County and UC Davis have the following suggestions:
- Set up a table to stand behind and hand out candy using candy-grabber or tongs. It’s safer to have an adult give out candy than to have many children reaching into the same candy bowl.
- Make treat bags and hang them from streamers outside for kids to grab
- Stage a “trunk-or-treat” where cars full of candy are parked more than six feet apart
- Ask neighbors if they’ll do a “reverse trick or treat” activity, such as driving by and throwing candy to kids standing on front lawns.
Wear A (Real) Mask
Many Halloween costumes involve a mask — either something built into the costume itself or a separate mask that covers part of all of your face.
But experts warn that these types of masks do not effectively prevent the spread fo COVID-19, because they usually have slits for breathing, which let viral particles out.
Doctors recommend designing an impenetrable cloth face covering to go with your costume, or wearing a regular covering under your costume mask.
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