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Halloween and COVID-19: Health officials release guidelines

Halloween trick-or-treat COVID-19

MADISON (WKOW) -- The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is asking the public to avoid gathering for Halloween and offered suggestions for alternative methods of celebrating the holiday.

In an update Thursday to the health agency's website, DHS added a list of recommendations for avoiding spreading or contracting COVID-19.

The update begins with a list of events to avoid, which includes some traditional Halloween staples like old fashioned trick-or-treating.

Suggested gatherings to avoid:

  • Large outdoor gatherings such as parties, festivals, and parades.
    • Even though being outside decreases the risk, being in close contact with people you don’t live with increases the risk of spreading and contracting COVID-19.
  • In-person indoor parties and celebrations. 
    • In-person costume contests and parties are not recommended, no matter where they might be held.
  • Happy hours or socializing at bars.
    • We’ve learned that going out to the bars helps the virus spread quickly.
  • Traditional trick-or-treating from neighbor to neighbor.
    • Going house-to-house and having in-person contact is not recommended.

Health officials say even trick or treat events at businesses that can have safety precautions planned could bring a risk.

"It would still be very difficult, I think, to have an event like that without encouraging some level of congregation," said Ryan Wozniak, with the Bureau of Communicable Diseases at DHS. "Lots of people walking around, say on State Street, or other areas where you've had these trick or treating events in the past, large crowds even if it's outdoors, which does reduce the risk but there still is lots of room for congregating with others outside of your household and home living unit that we'd recommend against at this time."

The Department offered several suggestions for how best to celebrate while minimizing the risk of COVID-19:

  • Hold virtual costume contests and parties. Dress up. Get online with friends and other families to celebrate and rate each other’s costumes.
  • Increase what you do at home to celebrate. Decorate where you live. Get the kids involved in making decorations. Bake Halloween-themed treats. Watch scary movies with your family, household, or as a group online.
  • If your community hosts trick-or-treating this year, do it more safely. Leave individual grab bags (or paper cups) filled with goodies outside your door for children to take. If you can, watch and wave to trick-or-treaters through a window. Or, leave Halloween treats outside the door where friends and loved ones live for a contact-free way of celebrating.
  • Instead of the usual close contact in a confined space, visit (or create) a drive-through haunted house experience.

Beyond these suggestions, DHS emphasized the importance of other basic health protocols it has evangelized for most of the pandemic such avoiding travel when possible, staying home if you are exhibiting symptoms of the disease, maintaining physical distancing and wearing facemasks.

The reception to the holiday has been mixed with some signs suggesting people are gearing up to celebrate it in traditional fashion while others are taking steps to call off some festivities.

Health officials say they're still working on guidance for other upcoming holidays, but it's likely gatherings with family outside of those you live with will still not be recommended.

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