State health officials are advising Californians to skip trick-or-treating this Halloween, though their new guidelines released Tuesday stop short of prohibiting the activity amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The guidelines come as trick-or-treaters ready their costumes for the holiday, which falls on a Saturday this year, potentially adding to the number of gatherings across the state.
Health officials voiced concerns that it's not possible to practice social distancing while trick-or-treating and that people would interact with members of other households. State officials are strongly discouraging trick-or-treating and instead suggested that some Halloween activities move online, such as costume contests and pumpkin carving, and have recommended families forgo going door to door for candy and instead go on a walk while dressed up.
"This is a recommendation," California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said on Tuesday. "Does that mean that trick-or-treaters will see some enforcement? Absolutely not. We don't want to turn certainly what is a celebration and a time of joy into something that is difficult or contentious, but we also recognize the need to provide a clear understanding of the risks and why we recommend strongly that we do Halloween differently than we have in the past."
The state released holiday guidelines on Friday prohibiting gatherings among more than three households and urging residents who choose to socialize with other families to do so with the same people in order to reduce the risk of transmission. The guidelines also note that interacting at multiple gatherings with different households or groups is "strongly discouraged."
The state had previously warned residents against mingling with members of any other households, but those restrictions are likely to become even more difficult to abide by as people look to spend the holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas together.
Ghaly said Tuesday the state has to be realistic in its expectation that residents will want to gather during the holiday season and added that providing guidance on how to limit exposure in those cases is important.
"We want to carry through this difficult time for transmission with flu, colder weather, more potential for gatherings, and that we come out of it with continued reduced cases and that we don't see that surge that other parts of the country are experiencing," Ghaly said.
Last month, Los Angeles County public health officials banned trick-or-treating and other Halloween activities, then revised the guidelines a day later following blowback to say the activities were "not recommended."
California is currently experiencing a respite from COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths as those numbers have dropped to the lowest levels seen in months.
In addition, the positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests for the virus that come back positive, is at an all-time low of 2.7 percent, according to state data.
The declining numbers have allowed more counties to reopen businesses and loosen restrictions on restaurants, movie theaters and gyms.
But Gov. Gavin Newsom has warned residents to remain vigilant, emphasizing that the coronavirus coupled with the upcoming flu season could create challenges in the state.
"We are entering into the holidays, but also we're entering into the part of the year when things cool down and people are more likely to congregate ... in settings that put their physical proximity and likelihood of transmitting disease at higher risk," Newsom said Monday. "Don't be misled that this disease is any less deadly. Quite the contrary — it is as deadly as it's ever been in the context of those that are high-risk."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
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