What Will a Pandemic Halloween Look Like? California Issues Some Recommendations

What will Halloween look like this year? It's a mixed bag.

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California released its Halloween health and safety guidelines Tuesday as neighborhoods throughout the country re-imagine the fall holiday.

California Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly announced the state's recommendations at a midday news conference. The complete guide outlining safe activities and those with higher levels of risk can be found here.

Many longtime annual events have already been canceled. Others have moved online or been downsized to avoid large groups of people. 

Despite the fact that Halloween will likely be less festive this year due to the coronavirus, Americans are stocking up on candy in record numbers.

The recommendations come just days after California released rules allowing social gatherings, its first such guidance since the pandemic began. Those recommendations allow up to three households to get together outdoors.

"Many traditional Halloween celebrations – such as parties and in-person, door to door trick-or-treating – pose a high risk of spreading COVID-19 and could put your family and loved ones at risk," state health officials said. "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."

Health officials said residents should follow their county and local health department guidelines.

Lower-risk activities in the guidelines include:

  • Joining online parties, like costume contests.
  • Drive-through Halloween displays or drive-in movies
  • Scary movies at home, candy scavenger hunts.
  • Wear your costumes on a neighborhood walk.

In mid-March, California became the first state in the nation to outline sweeping statewide health safety protocols to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

"As we approach so many traditional days and activities, we expect people asking the question, 'How do we in a lower-risk way come together with people maybe that we haven't seen in a long time?'" Ghaly said Monday. "And the purpose of the small gatherings guidance that is now posted on the California Department of Public Health website is really to not say it's a good idea, or appropriate to gather with three families. But really to say, more than three households, you really are increasing your risk."

In Los Angeles County, health officials walked back guidelines that initially restricted trick-or-treating, haunted houses and other traditions. Updated guidance stops short of prohibiting door-to-door trick-or-treating, instead recommending that families avoid it.

Trunk-treating, distributing candy from car to car in a parking lot, also is not recommended. 

Car parades, drive-through haunted houses and movie nights at drive-in events are ok, if they meet health and safety protocols. Parades, carnivals, indoor haunted houses and concerts are not permitted in Los Angeles County. 

Annual events like Knott’s Scary Farm, Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights, Disneyland’s Oogie Boogie Bash and the Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor have already been canceled. You can find a list of Halloween and fall events that are still on by clicking here. 

Los Angeles County remains in the state’s highest tier for virus danger.

Across the U.S., Halloween night plans are a mixed bag. 

Candy-getting scenarios are afloat on social media, with some planning treat tosses to stationary children in their yards so the young don’t have to leave their pandemic bubbles. Others are considering long sticks with hooks for candy buckets at the end, offering social distance at collection time, or long chutes to send the candy through to dressed-up recipients.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelinesThe guidelines include a list ranking the relative risk level of certain traditions, like trick-or-treating and pumpkin-carving.

Pandemic changes even extend to stores that sell candy. CVS Pharmacy said it has scaled back the number of large and giant bags of candy its stores will receive in favor of smaller bags for smaller outings and family gatherings.

Walmart is bringing in more masks that can pull double duty as costume accessories, such as versions that feature the words “princess” or “queen.” 

Walgreens has increased its assortments of indoor and outdoor Halloween decorations, and it stepped up offerings of beverage and snack options for entertaining at home.

Coronavirus Deaths in Your City and State — and Across the US

These charts use daily coronavirus death data from Johns Hopkins University to show the seven-day moving average of deaths at the city, state and country level.

The impact of coronavirus varies enormously in the United States from one place to another.

Source: Johns Hopkins University.
Credit: Visuals by Amy O’Kruk/NBC, data analysis by Ron Campbell/NBC

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