Celebrating Halloween during a COVID-19 pandemic means virtual costume contests, decorating and carving pumpkins and, certainly, eating candy, but at home.
Traditional house-to-house trick-or-treating, where treats are personally handed out to children or offered via a shared bucket, is not recommended by the state Department of Health and U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which earlier this month urged people to choose safer alternatives.
“House-to-house trick-or-treating is usually a social event, and one in which children and families mix freely, closely, and in large groups,” said Dr. Janet Berreman, the state Kauai District health officer, in response to questions. “In addition, groups of trick-or-treaters reaching into shared treat containers are an opportunity for infection to spread. For these reasons, trick-or-treating is an activity that can lead to disease spread.”
This Halloween, health officials say celebrating with household members at home is the safest option.
Lower-risk options include hosting a scary movie watch party online, an outdoor scavenger hunt or carving pumpkins with others from your household. Carving pumpkins outside, at a safe distance, with neighbors or friends is also listed as a lower-risk activity by the CDC. Berreman, however, says masks should still be worn.
On the more moderate side are one-way trick-or-treating events with individually wrapped goody bags lined up for keiki to grab and go at the end of a driveway, or an outdoor, open-air costume parade with a small group. High-risk activities include indoor haunted houses where crowding and screaming could occur, and hayrides shared with people outside of your household.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green echoed Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s sentiments on Halloween, warning that one night of unguarded celebration could result in a setback in reopening the economy. People should not have Halloween parties this year, he said, nor go house to house trick-or-treating.
“Halloween, it’s a risky holiday in the sense that it promotes people going up and seeing lots of people in series,” said Green during a Spotlight Hawaii conversation Monday. “So going house to house is about as bad an idea during a global pandemic as you could have. So I think we should just have a whopper of a Halloween in 2021 and probably let this one be chill, and take pictures with our kids and buy gift bags and candy for them.”
Health officials are hoping there will not be another surge, which historically has happened after other holidays in Hawaii, including the Fourth of July.
Under Honolulu’s current Tier 2 framework, large parties, indoor haunted houses and non-drive-thru trunk-and-treat events on Oahu are not allowed. Social gatherings of up to five are allowed and, thus, allowed to trick-or-treat together, although Caldwell does not recommend it.
According to the city’s oneoahu.org Halloween guidance, a group of trick-or-treaters must not exceed a maximum of five, counting parents and young children. Those trick-or-treating with another family must maintain physical distancing.
Those participating in a drive-thru event should also be members of the same household, since physical distancing cannot be maintained in a passenger car. Volunteers and staff assisting with the event must not be in groups of more than five, either.
Caldwell on Tuesday sent letters to the general managers of 47 hotels on Oahu, requesting their cooperation in enforcing COVID-19 rules, especially during Halloween.
“Historically, Halloween has been a holiday where large gatherings occur especially in Waikiki and Downtown Honolulu,” said Caldwell in a news release. “These gatherings have demonstrated to be ‘super-spreader’ events of COVID-19 here in Hawaii, on the Continent, in Europe, and elsewhere. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen here. A safe Halloween will keep our recovery moving forward and help us move to the next tier in a few weeks.”
Halloween in Hawaii is not completely devoid of events this year, though many have been canceled and others are modified.
Various malls and shopping centers are holding drive-thru candy crawls, virtual costume contests and scavenger hunts, with giveaways. Maui County is partnering with community groups to coordinate drive-thru events at the Outlets of Maui and Keopuolani Park, but the traditional Lahaina Halloween Parade is, of course, canceled due to COVID-19.
Berreman advises following the “3 W’s” rule: wear a face mask, wash your hands and watch your distance, maintaining at least 6 feet from people outside your household. This goes for Halloween festivities as well as day-to-day practices.
She pointed out that trick-or-treating at the homes of people one knows is not necessarily safer because the risk is not lower than with anyone else.
If you decide to give out candy, then individual “grab and go” treat bags are safer than bowls of candy to avoid shared touching of the candy by multiple individuals. The CDC advises washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing the treat bags.
Also, costume masks should not be substituted for face masks, according to health officials, since they are not protective. Instead, use a Halloween-themed face mask that securely covers the nose and mouth, from the bridge of the nose to under the chin. Wearing a costume mask over a protective cloth mask is not advised because it can be hard to breathe.
Shawn Kadooka, co-owner of Waimanalo Country Farms, said the family at first was unsure of whether to hold its annual festival.
Aloun Farms in Kapolei last month announced it was canceling its 20th annual Pumpkin Festival, which brought in up to 60,000 attendees over three weekends, because of the pandemic.
In past years Waimanalo Country Farms also has attracted visitors to its farm in October for hayrides, a petting zoo, pumpkin cannon launch, lemonade, country store and a walk-through its fields to pick out pumpkins.
She said everyone, including her grandkids, pitched in and came up with a creative alternative: a drive-thru pumpkin patch, which will be available daily through Saturday.
Reservations must be made in advance online for each vehicle, and masks must be worn. The event is mostly in-vehicle, but there are a few optional stops to pick out a pumpkin or to take photos, and an opportunity to drive by farm animals and buy goods from a drive-thru country market stand.
With everyone having been cooped up, they thought it would be nice to offer another option. Kadooka said her grandkids won’t be trick-or-treating, either, but enjoyed making scarecrows for the field.
“We didn’t know what to expect, but it was surprisingly pretty smooth,” she said. “We were quite happy with how it turned out.”
>> Carving or decorating pumpkins with members of your household
>> Carving or decorating pumpkins outside, at a safe distance, with neighbors or friends
>> Decorating your house, apartment or living space
>> A Halloween scavenger hunt where children are given lists of items to look for while walking outdoors
>> A trick-or-treat scavenger hunt with household members in or around your home
>> A virtual Halloween costume contest
>> A Halloween movie night with people you live with
>> One-way trick-or-treating with individually wrapped goody bags for families to grab and go while physically distanced
>> Outdoor costume parade with a small group, with physical distancing
>> Outdoor costume party, with masks and physical distancing
>> Visiting pumpkin patches (with masks, physical distancing and use of hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins)
>> An outdoor Halloween movie night with people spaced at least 6 feet apart (greater distancing if screaming will likely occur)
>> Traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children going door-to-door
>> Trunk-and-treat events where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in parking lots
>> Crowded costume parties held indoors
>> Indoor haunted houses, where people are crowded together and screaming
>> Hay and tractor rides with people not from your household
>> City and County of Honolulu, oneoahu.org/faqs/#halloween
>> State Department of Health, hawaiicovid19.com/safe-halloween
>> CDC, cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/ daily-life-coping (Click on “Halloween.”)
>> Honolulu Police Department enforcement hotline, 723-3900