Granite Staters are preparing for a completely different kind of Halloween.
This year, the coronavirus has cancelled major annual Halloween staples like the Portsmouth Halloween Parade and Laconia Pumpkin Fest, but many towns are still hosting events and allowing trick-or-treating with restrictions based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the state.
COVID-19 cases have been on the rise nationally and within New Hampshire. The state is testing more, but state epidemiologists have said the rise in cases is due to more community spread, as small gatherings move inside amid colder weather.
“Participating in Halloween activities and going out, it’s not zero risk, it's lower risk,” said Bobbie Bagley, director of Nashua Public Health and Community Services.
Those who are feeling sick or who are potentially at higher risk of COVID-19 should stay home and should not hand out candy this Halloween. But for those who do choose to participate, local health experts and city representatives answered some NHPR questions about how to do it safely. Check your town or city’s website for specific health guidance and designated trick-or-treat times, as guidance could change.
Should I take my kids trick-or-treating?
Trick-or-treating is designated as a moderate-risk activity by the CDC, and some city officials and doctors have discouraged the activity this year. But if families do decide to trick-or-treat this year, health officials are advising families to stay within their own small groups as they’re out on Halloween and to trick-or-treat only within their neighborhood.
“Gone are the days where we want people to drop their kids off in a jam packed neighborhood and go door to door. So we’re asking people to stay in their family units and keep 6 feet or more of space with other families,” said Jane Goodman, communications specialist for the Nashua Division of Public Health and Community Services.
Trick-or-treaters should also wear a cloth mask or face covering as part of their costume, not just a costume mask, and frequently wash or sanitize their hands throughout the night.
“We would like those to go all together and just wear a regular mask - decorate it if you need to, put a Superman stamp on it, do whatever you have to for that,” Goodman said.
How can I safely distribute candy?
Instead of using a grab bowl for candy, the CDC advises making separated goodie bags and distributing them in a socially distanced way, like placing them on a table at the end of a driveway. Make sure to wash your hands before and after preparing candy bags.
“I have heard that there are a number of initiatives to use PVC pipe as a candy delivery system. People are trying to do things differently,” said Stephanie Seacord, Portsmouth’s public information officer.
Households that do not want to participate in trick-or-treat this year should leave their porch lights off.
What about parties or gatherings?
Health officials are discouraging large gatherings, crowded costume parties, and indoor haunted houses or attractions. Smaller group gatherings outdoors in which all participants are wearing masks and keeping 6 feet apart are safer, but still considered a risk.
“Even outside, crowds are not a good thing. More specifically, crowds are where transmission happens,” Seacord said.
What are some safe alternatives for celebrating Halloween this year?
The safest way to celebrate Halloween this year is at home with your own close contacts, according to CDC guidance. Towns are suggesting that families get creative by hosting scavenger hunts in their homes or yards, having a movie night, or carving pumpkins instead of trick-or-treating.
Other communities, where in-person celebrations have been cancelled, have adapted those events this year. In Portsmouth, in place of the annual Halloween parade, the Seacoast Paddleboard Club will host a costume parade on the water at Peirce Island. InTown Concord, in place of its annual Halloween Howl, is hosting a pumpkin hunt throughout businesses downtown and a virtual costume contest.
“We’re encouraging people to have their own celebrations at home. Maybe have a costume party for the grandparents on Zoom. It’s a good opportunity to make new traditions right at home,” Seacord said.