Each year on Halloween, children dress up in spooky costumes and travel from house to house asking for treats with the phrase “Trick-or-treat!” before they are greeted by homeowners who hand out sweets such as chocolate or other candies.
However, Halloween this year is the latest tradition that is being reimagined due to the ongoing concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic as medical officers of health are suggesting that this is not the year to go trick-or-treating.
Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Vera Etches, has said there is a risk someone could spread the virus in the group they trick-or-treat with or during doorstep interactions as children go door-to-door asking for treats.
“I recommend that people stay with the members of their household, that you look at ways to have candy for kids in your household, in a different way. Dress up, share costumes with pictures, do these things more virtually,” added the Ottawa Medical Officer of Health on a virtual interview.
“There’s lots of fun to be had. People need to have fun right now and dressing up is one of those great things. I love that.”
Last week, Ottawa Public Health also recommended against Halloween parties and gatherings, suggesting that people can plan scary movie nights or scavenger hunts at home instead.
Ottawa is currently among a group of regions including Toronto and Peel Region that are considered COVID-19 hotspots with the Ottawa Public Health units reporting more than 100 new cases on most days in recent weeks.
Hospitals and health-care staff are reportedly under strain, and the city is also one of three regions in Ontario ordered to revert to a modified version of Stage 2 pandemic restrictions which included forcing some businesses to close.
Elsewhere, mayors across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area have called upon the province to deliver a clearer message when it comes to Halloween as Ontario’s top doctor hints that the advice could be different for COVID-19 hotspots of Toronto, Peel and Ottawa regions.
In a news release issued on Tuesday afternoon, the mayors and regional chairs from the 11 largest municipal governments across the GTHA said that they want the province to provide clear advice about Halloween “by the end of this week” and will work with local medical officers of health to “forge such a common position for discussion with the province.”
However, in a subsequent briefing, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams seemed to suggest that the advice could be different in the three regions that have placed under a modified Stage 2 amid a steep increase in COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Williams told reporters that his “general recommendations” are that people “only trick or treat outside” and avoid “lingering” for long periods of time on stairs and porches.
He also said that everyone partaking in trick or treating should wear face coverings, whether it is the children going door-to-door, the adults accompanying them or the homeowners handing out candy.
Dr. Williams, however, said that the advice doesn’t apply to the harder-hit regions of Toronto, Ottawa and Peel and that more “specific” guidelines will likely be coming for those jurisdictions.
“People are asking in the hot zones what we recommend. We haven’t. We are discussing that today and I am hoping to have some recommendations from our political measures table because when these came out we didn’t have the hot zones. Now we have the hot zones,” he said.
“I know that Halloween is coming soon so we hope to have an answer for you in the next day or so because you do want to do your planning and preparation accordingly.”
On the other hand, Canada’s top public doctor has said that there is no need to cancel Halloween this year on the condition that trick-or-treaters respect the new realities of the pandemic.
“I think finding that balance of trying to provide some degree of normality, even though it is actually different from any other year, most public health leaders think that that is actually important,” Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam told a briefing in Ottawa earlier this week.
The Chief Public Health Officer also advised parents and students to maintain physical distancing while trick-or-treating outside, sticking to pre-packaged treats, and to have hand sanitizer readily available.
Dr. Tam also suggested the creative use of “different fabrics” that can turn a day-to-day face mask into part of the Halloween costume.
“There are some really interesting ideas where people are handing out treats at the end of a hockey stick or something, using a pool noodle to tell your kids how far they should be standing apart from each other,” she said. “So, there are ways to actually manage this outdoors.”
Both Dr. Tam and her colleague, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo, said more tips will be posted to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website soon.
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