Halloween is a holiday that’s meant to be scary, but this year has residents afraid of more than just ghosts and ghouls. With the COVID-19 pandemic stretching into the fall, people everywhere are having to weigh the benefits of participating in normal festivities with the risks of exposure.
In Durham, Lee, Madbury, and Barrington, trick or treating is traditionally the main event of Halloween. All four towns still plan to hold trick or treat on October 30th, from 5:00pm to 7:00pm, but this year there will be extra precautions in place. Communities have published guidelines on handing out candy individually, navigating one-way traffic, and keeping groups small to prevent the night from being a superspreader event (an event that results in a mass spreading of COVID-19). Overall, there is some anxiety about how successful towns will be in implementing these procedures, but the community feels confident that residents will be safe.
During a typical year, trick or treat looks like families and groups of kids walking from house to house in their neighborhoods while local police and fire monitor the area. That basic premise won’t be any different this year, but residents should expect smaller groups travelling further apart, as well as increased police and fire presence for safety.
The guidelines ORCSD towns are putting out are per the State of New Hampshire’s guidelines, according to Lee Town Administrator Julie Glover and Madbury Town Administrator Eric Fiegenbaum. They include non-Halloween specific orders, like six feet of social distancing, frequent hand washing, and wearing masks.
Additionally, residents are encouraged to reimagine the way they hand out candy. “The biggest thing is, if you choose to participate in neighborhood trick or treating, you have to distribute candy differently this year,” said Rachel Gasowski, Durham’s Parks and Recreation Director. She suggested setting up a candy collection station that would allow for a one-way flow of traffic, and both she and Glover recommended individually-packaged goodies. They also encourage residents to steer clear of leaving big bowls of candy out for everyone, as that increases risk of exposure.
Mia Hricz (‘21), a Durham resident, explained how her neighborhood of Canney Farms, a popular trick or treat destination in the community, interpreted those guidelines. She said, “Most will be wearing costumes, so masks should be a must, and people said they would like to hand out candy while wearing gloves and a mask. Others were not a fan of these ideas and were concerned with the amount of people and the possibility of non mask wearers coming near their houses. In the end, the families in my neighborhood decided that everyone can do what they feel comfortable doing.”
Like Hricz described, not everyone is choosing to participate, but those who are feel grateful for the support from the town. “These are incredibly difficult times for our children, and I think identifying lower risk activities for them to participate in them on a town level helps to reduce the number of families that will engage in high-risk activities such as indoor Halloween parties,” said Durham resident Jocelyn O’Quinn. O’Quinn plans on handing out candy to neighborhood trick or treaters, and is confident that the night will be successful. “Since our town in New Hampshire has a relatively low incidence of COVID-19, I think that an outdoor activity such as trick-or-treating is low risk.”
Hricz shared similar gratitude, saying “I am glad that we are having Halloween in a way. I think being outside and distant from trick or treaters gives everyone the chance to experience some fun during these tough times of isolation. I also think that being outside, wearing costumes and masks and the fact that candy is wrapped makes the situation pretty safe- but if people don’t feel comfortable I respect that too. They should let the people who want to go about Halloween in a safe and smart way give out candy.”
To make sure protocol is being followed, local law enforcement will be patrolling during the festivities. According to Durham’s Deputy Police Chief, David Holmstock, officers pick up additional shifts every Halloween, but this year they’re doing more than just observing. “The role we wish to play as the enforcement arm of the community is one of an educator,” he said. “We’ll be out there, and it’s about educating people. Letting them know, hey, these are the rules of the town.”
However, local government can only be responsible for so much. According to Gasowski, “We are leaving it in the hands of the community to keep everybody safe. Police and fire will be out there, but they can’t account for everyone. I’m really hoping residents read through the guidelines we put out there and follow them.”
Holmstock added that, “You have to ask the community to help police themselves sometimes. This is one of those opportunities.”
Town officials report that residents are hopeful about the upcoming event. “Lee is feeling good. We’re still being cautious, we’re still trying to protect employees and the public. I don’t want to speak for the entire population, but there are certainly people who are eager to do it,” said Glover.
O’Quinn shared a similar sentiment. “I am very appreciative that Durham is allowing Halloween and giving guidelines on how to make it relatively safe. I worry that the fall and winter are going to be very difficult months for kids, so celebrating Halloween gives them an opportunity to have some normalcy,” she said.
With spirits high, officials anticipate the event going smoothly. According to Holmstock, “We’re coming into uncharted territory, because there’s never been a COVID-19 Halloween, but overall I believe we should have a safe and successful night.” Gasowski and Glover also expressed confidence in the community’s response. “Overall, I trust that the community will do the right thing and trick or treat safely,” said Gasowski.
According to guidelines published by Durham, Lee, Madbury, and Barrington, the time and date of this year’s trick or treat is the same as it has been years past: October 30th, from 5:00pm to 7:00pm. These guidelines, along with more information on safe Halloween procedure, can be found on all of the towns’ websites. Additionally, residents are encouraged to review the CDC’s recommendations for public safety, which are available on the CDC’s website.