Halloween is always a popular holiday in San Francisco, for adults as well as children. (Connor Hunt/ Special to SF Examiner)

Bay Area health officials issue guidelines for a safer Halloween

Residents urged to avoid trick-or-treating, large parties and festivals this year

With Halloween and Día de Los Muertos approaching, Bay Area officials on Monday jointly recommended against trick-or-treating as we know it while offering ways to stay festive.

Other holidays have come and gone under coronavirus but October is the start of the first prolonged festive season since the pandemic, soon to be followed by Christmas. Residents are being urged to maintain social distancing precautions while they celebrate.

“This year Halloween can be safe and not scary,” San Francisco officials said in an email. “Since many of the traditions for Halloween increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission, we encourage families to find creative and socially distant ways to celebrate.”

Regular trick-or-treating that involves handing treats to kids who go door-to-door is considered high risk for bringing multiple people from varying households together and should be avoided. Bay Area health officers, through Santa Clara County, also recommend against traveling to a rural fall festival outside your area if coming from an area with community spread.

Scaled back trick-or-treating can still be done, but is labeled as a moderate risk “if you must” activity. Individually wrapped goodie bags can be lined up for families to grab at a distance, like at the end of a driveway. But those preparing the bags should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after.

Neighbors who may not want to be disturbed by trick-or-treating may put up a sign or turn off their porch light.

Everyone participating should wear a proper face covering, maintain distance from others, frequently use sanitizer while out and wash their hands immediately after coming home. Candy should be eaten inside the home to prevent removing masks and touching wrappers.

Another suggestion that comes with moderate risk is to have a very small group participate in an open-air costume parade while wearing masks and staying physically apart. Themed outdoor dining or takeout is also an option.

Other options include visiting a pumpkin patch with face coverings, decorate the house, carve pumpkins, turn trick-or-treating into a scavenger hunt with household members, or hold a virtual costume contest.

Costume masks are not replacements for proper face coverings but themed masks can help keep the spirit. Officials recommend against wearing both to prevent breathing problems.

Families can still prepare traditional recipes and set up an ofrenda and play music for their deceased loved ones. Communities could alternatively arrange a strictly vehicle-based gathering like a car or bike parade, though in areas without many pedestrians or encouraging spectators to gather.

San Francisco’s traditional Day of the Dead Festival of Altars will instead be live-streamed for free on Nov. 2 by the Marigold Project and Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts.

Very high-risk activities that may not be allowed are crowded parties — indoors and outdoors — that have spread many cases in the Bay Area so far, officials said. Eating, drinking, sharing food, speaking loudly, or singing in groups outside household members also increases risk of community spread.

Haunted houses, indoor mazes, and “trunk-or-treats” where candy is handed out from car trunks in parking lots are also considered high risk.

Health officials recommend monitoring symptoms for 14 days after the holidays, especially 3-7 days after when they’re most likely to develop. Should symptoms arise or a close contact tests positive, you should get tested and stay home until the results are in.

“These holidays are no different than the rest of the year when it comes to reducing the spread of COVID-19,” the officials said in a statement. “Focusing on decorations, limiting activities to the people you live with, and virtual costume parties or contests will help keep our communities safe this season, especially our children.”

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