By Elizabeth Sayasane, Douglas County Public Health Liaison
With October here, leaves are changing color, a chill fills the air, and people begin preparing for Halloween celebrations at the end of the month. While the CDC discourages many traditional Halloween activities, communities have plenty of options to celebrate without increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Door-to-door trick-or-treating presents a high risk of spreading the virus. Crowded costume parties, indoor haunted houses and hayrides with those outside of your household are also not advised. Participating in these activities increases the opportunities for close contact with others who could pass on the virus.
Those who still wish to celebrate the season, though, can take part in a number of low risk activities. Carving and decorating pumpkins or decorating the house will help bring the festive mood home. Even carving pumpkins outside with neighbors in their yards a safe distance away would be a reasonable activity.
Virtual options for celebration are also possible. Neighborhoods or school groups can host virtual costume contests, with each participant submitting a photo in their favorite Halloween getup. The group can share these photos with each other and vote for the best costume. Friends can also host virtual scary movie nights, showing one movie on a platform that allows viewers to watch from multiple devices such as Netflix Party or Zoom.
For a more interactive experience, neighborhoods can collaborate to make an outdoor scavenger hunt. Members of the community can make a list of spooky Halloween items and decorations. Then, each house can put one up in their windows and yards. Kids can walk around the neighborhood at a safe distance looking for each item.
Communities can also work together to host activities that pose only a moderate risk to individuals. These events still pose a greater threat than simply staying inside or only staying around household members; however, if everyone in attendance follows regulations, these ideas can be carried out in a relatively safe manner.
Kids can substitute traditional trick-or-treat with a bit of additional effort from neighboring houses. Instead of individuals handing out treats at the door or kids picking candy from a single bowl, consider doing one-way trick-or-treating. Neighbors can prepare individually wrapped goody bags of candy and line them up at the edge of their yard for children to grab as they walk down the block.
To add a bit of fun and Halloween drama to this, houses can attach a stick to the candy goody bags and poke them around in the grass, like a candy graveyard. Kids can go up and pick a goody-bag-gravestone up from the ground as they walk past.
The season offers a number of opportunities to enjoy autumn festivities and weather, with outdoor activities that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Apple orchards and pumpkin patches are still operating throughout the season, with proper precautions in place.
Families can travel to The 200 Acres (Great Pumpkin Patch) in Arthur where, instead of picking their own pumpkins, they can visit the Cucurbit Market and browse the large variety of squash and gourds while staying socially distanced. For those who wouldn’t mind driving a little farther outside of Douglas County, Champaign County has Curtis Orchard and Pumpkin Patch with plenty of safe fall activities to keep everyone happy.
Being outdoors, these options offer more safety than indoor celebrations. By wearing masks, staying six feet apart, and frequently washing hands or using hand sanitizer, everyone can stay safe without missing out on the fun.
This policy can also be applied to any gatherings that take place with people outside of the household. Hosting small gatherings while following CDC guidelines allows families and friends to celebrate together while keeping each other safe.
Groups can host a Halloween movie night outdoors with the locals (traveling too far outside of one’s community is still not recommended), though greater social distancing is advised if there will be screaming from a scary showing.
If hosting a costume party, by keeping everyone outdoors, six feet apart and in masks, spreading of the virus can be decreased. A protective cloth mask cannot be substituted for a costume mask, though, unless that mask has two or more layers of breathable fabric covering both the mouth and nose.
Halloween inspires a number of festivities and celebrations every October. While it may look different this year, communities can come together more than ever to enjoy the holidays while keeping everyone safe.