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Celebrating a traditional Halloween is a risk, say Ontario medical officers

The Saskatchewan Health Authority identified the Halloween party held on Oct. 31 near Weyburn as a potential coronavirus exposure location. Don Mitchell / Global News

A number of health officials across Ontario are recommending that children not trick-or-treat door-to-door this Halloween as the second wave of the coronavirus will be fully active when the annual celebration arrives this weekend.

Last week, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, urged families to choose a safer alternative involving social distancing and masks, particularly those in Toronto, Ottawa, Peel and York regions that are in a modified Stage 2 due to high COVID-19 case numbers.

Williams suggested limiting activities to virtual Halloween parties, candy hunts within a single household, movie night and/or decorating their front lawns.

Read more: Door-to-door trick-or-treating not recommended for regions in modified Stage 2, Ontario health officials say

“And they can do things to make it fun with virtual Halloween in different areas, family members dropping off beforehand, loot bags or packages carefully, safely at the doorstep,” said Williams.

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Despite not being in a modified Stage 2 zone, Hamilton’s medical officer is encouraging residents to stay home and avoid parties/gatherings with others who live outside a household.

Dr. Elizabeth Richardson told Global News the fact that Halloween comes on a Saturday night “worries” her, particularly with young adults.

“Adult parties are absolutely a no-go,” Richardson said. “You know, I have a group of friends who we normally get together ever every Halloween and I’m going to miss it hugely. But we know that’s not a responsible thing to do.”

For those who plan to trick-or-treat despite the warnings, Richardson suggests masks that cover the nose, mouth and chin, tongs to hand out treats or a candy slide, and knocking on doors instead of ringing the doorbell.

Read more: COVID-19 outbreak at elementary school on Hamilton Mountain, city says

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“So it’s about stepping back and looking at things like, can you find a way of going up to the door when everybody else isn’t there,” said Richardson.

“So you’re going to hang back and be prepared to do that rather than crowding up at the door.”

Halton’s medical officer is also suggesting virtual parties, movie nights and household scavenger hunts.

However, Dr. Hamidah Meghani says if people insist on trick-or-treating she suggests only travelling around with members of your household, using hand sanitizer often and keeping your distance from others at all times.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Ontario officials recommend not celebrating Halloween in the ‘normal door-to-door way’' Coronavirus: Ontario officials recommend not celebrating Halloween in the ‘normal door-to-door way’
Coronavirus: Ontario officials recommend not celebrating Halloween in the ‘normal door-to-door way’ – Oct 19, 2020

“As always, if you are not feeling well, even mild cold-like symptoms, stay home and do not hand out treats,” Meghani said.

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“Also note that a traditional Halloween mask is not a replacement for a cloth face covering.”

Brant County’s acting medical officer says events around Halloween simply involve high-risk activities that are ideal for spreading viruses.

“I know that we have asked a lot of residents over the past several months and that COVID-19 fatigue is very real, but we cannot let our guard down,” Dr. Elizabeth Urbantke said.

Read more: Hamilton’s school board says COVID-19 screenings have sent nearly 3,000 students home

Urbantke suggests residents should avoid not only parties but also indoor haunted houses and events in which treats are handed out from cars lined up in large parking lots.

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“Modified trick-or-treating is considered a moderate risk activity. Modified trick-or-treating includes things like wearing a non-medical mask or face covering as part of your child’s costume. It also means modified activities for those handing out treats,” Urbantke said.