Trick-or-treating on, but with caution

  • Lucy Wilmerding, 6, left, of Florence, and Nora Bianciardi, 9, of Florence, dressed as a jellyfish, wait for the start of the Florence Rag Shag parade, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 10/5/2020 8:05:01 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Instead of just monster and vampire masks, kids will be donning new, less spooky ones for Halloween this year: face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But will they be able to trick-or-treat under the Oct. 31 full moon? For the most part, yes — but with safety precautions.

Cities and towns are beginning to issue guidance on trick-or-treating in the pandemic.

Last month, Springfield’s Mayor Domenic J. Sarno announced a ban on door-to-door trick-or-treating, saying that it would put children and their families in harm’s way. Many Hampshire County cities and towns have not banned the activity, however.

“While we all know that the safest way to celebrate Halloween this year is to stay home, we also know this is an important event for many families,” Merridith O’Leary, director of the Northampton Health Department, said in a recent statement from the mayor’s office. The department “urges” residents partaking to wear a face covering, wash their hands and use hand sanitizer, and practice social distancing. For those handing out candy, the city suggests putting a table between you and trick-or-treaters and using tape to mark six feet of social distance.

Fall holidays, “will likely need to be different this fall to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19,” according to guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC considers going trick-or-treating door to door a higher-risk activity and suggests it can be less risky to wrap bagged candy for trick-or-treaters to take from your lawn or driveway. A costume mask can’t be used instead of a cloth mask, the CDC says, and if you expect screaming at a socially-distanced outdoor gathering, the CDC suggests staying well over six feet apart.

Amherst’s Leisure Services and Supplemental Education department and the business community are again collaborating to run safe Halloween events for children, though a store-to-store trick-or-treating event and a downtown scavenger hunt are canceled. The town has not canceled door-to-door trick-or-treating.

Beginning this week and running through Oct. 19, children can participate in a virtual mask-making program to decorate and win prizes, and on the mornings of Oct. 18 and Oct. 25, children will get to paint storefront windows with ghosts, witches, pumpkins and other images of the season. Finally on Oct. 31 at 3 p.m., a “Trick or Treat My Ride Halloween Car Parade” will take place, with all participants receiving a treat bag.

Holyoke has not yet released guidelines.

“We’re looking at different scenarios and different guidelines to make sure we provide the best safety guidelines,” a spokesperson for Mayor Alex Morse’s office said on Monday morning. “We are definitely working on it.”

In Hatfield, COVID-19 Coordinator Kerry Flaherty issued a memo that trick-or-treating should be able to go on.

“We will not be moving or stopping Halloween from happening, because our numbers continue to be low, so there is no reason to consider at this point to not be having it,” Flaherty wrote. “The decision for children to be trick or treating on Halloween will be left to the parents to decide if they want to have their children go out or not.”

Flaherty added that children going around town and people handing out candy should follow CDC guidelines.

Easthampton’s Board of Health released similar advice, telling residents to follow Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s guidelines.

Hadley’s Select Board last week gave its support to a Trunk or Treat event, a drive-through event scheduled for Oct. 30 from 7 to 9 p.m. and organized by the public safety departments and the town’s Park and Recreation department. But, the board opted against either encouraging or discouraging children from doing door-to-door trick or treating in Hadley.

Canceled events

While many still have the option of trick-or-treating, other well-attended seasonal traditions have been canceled due to the pandemic.

In September, Easthampton’s Parks and Recreation Department made the call to cancel the annual Rag Shag Parade and Harvest Festival, as anticipated turnouts of more than 1,000 people would have breached social distancing guidelines.

“It was the most depressing thing,” said Samantha Pliska, an administrative assistant for the Parks and Recreation Department. “This year was going to be our 10th Harvest fest, and it was going to be on 10/10 too. We had to cancel everything this year.”

The Rag Shag Parade has been held since at least the 1980s and can attract around 1,200 participants, according to Pliska. Children and their families walk through the city’s downtown area in costume, while business owners and organizers hand out candy.

Easthampton Media has reached out to the department in hopes of planning a virtual event, Pliska said, where families can submit photos of their costumes.

South Hadley is taking a similar route. The town “does not host or regulate any holiday - including Halloween - or have any authority to do so,” according to statement on the town’s website. While residents can choose to trick-or-treat, town officials are encouraging families to remain vigilant and observe CDC guidelines while celebrating Halloween.

“During this pandemic, if residents do choose to participate in trick-or-treating, we ask residents to use common sense,” the town’s notice states. “Practice social distancing. Telling residents to wear a mask would be redundant for this particular holiday, but we hope they have the right mask on — Halloween or not.”

Like Easthampton, other Halloween traditions in South Hadley are on hold for this year. Organizers of the Trail of Screams, a haunted trail event run by the Boy Scouts Troop 303 each year, decided over the summer to cancel the event. The event has been held for around a decade and attracts around 600 people over the course of three weekends in October, according to Tracie Mastorakis, whose family hosts the trail in nearby woods owned by the town’s Water Department.

“It was really sad,” Mastorakis said of the cancellation. “It was a big decision. We waited really til the last minute to make the decision as far as planning goes because usually we start planning in August.”

The event benefited the Neighbors Helping Neighbors food pantry and last year raised around 1,000 pounds of food for the organization last year, and also supported the Boy Scouts troop. While the event is off for 2020, Mastakorakis said she is still putting out a call for food pantry donations.

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