County offers guidance for safe Halloween celebrations

Last year, WPNS students at the annual WPNS Halloween Parade. Crystal Apilado/Winters Express

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From picking out pumpkins (and cradling ducklings and kittens) at Impossible Acres to trick-or-treating in neighborhoods throughout the city, the festivities surrounding the Halloween season are much-loved traditions for many Yolo County residents.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has cast a shadow over this year’s festivities, with fears the virus will spread when groups gather and treats are handed out.

The more people interact with those outside their household, and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the risk of getting and spreading the novel coronavirus.

But there are still ways to enjoy the festivities, and Yolo County health officials issued some guidance earlier this week on how to do so.

First up: that annual trip to the pumpkin patch.

Family-friendly activities this time of year usually include everything from petting zoos to corn mazes; hayrides to pumpkin picking.

Not all of those activities will be available this year, but some will be, with local pumpkin patches opening this week. So how to be safe?

Step one, as usual, is face coverings.

According to the county’s guidance, all customers entering a farm or other agribusiness must wear a face covering unless they are younger than 2 years old or have other exemptions. All staff at such businesses must wear face coverings as well.

Businesses themselves should provide protective equipment to staff and equip customer entrances and exits as well as check-out stations with sanitation products like hand sanitizer.

Social distancing goes hand-in-hand with face coverings, so businesses should also limit capacity, including the number of places people can gather, such as picnic areas.

“If there are tents or tables that the public can sit at or reserve, tables should be at least 6 feet apart from other tables,” the county’s guidance states.

Local favorites, including Impossible Acres at 37945 County Road 31 and Bobby Dazzler’s at 23300 County Road 99D were both scheduled to open this week.

Both have made modifications due to COVID. Impossible Acres has modified its barnyard area to allow for social distancing while visiting farm animals, for example, and Bobby Dazzler’s has changed its maze to a one-way trail with staggered entry to eliminate the possibility of groups running into each other, according to its website.

Ask a child what the worst things about a COVID Halloween would be and the inability to trick or treat would probably rank at the top of the list.

Door-to-door trick-or-treating is on the county’s list of higher risk Halloween activities, but for those families who do plan to trick-or-treat this year, the county has some guidance on doing so as safely as possible, starting with going out only with members of the same household.

Wear a face covering even while outdoors or wearing a costume, wash hands or use hand sanitizer often and don’t share costume props or food, the county advises.

“Try not to touch doorbells or other high-touch surfaces with your bare hands,” the county guidance states. “Consider gloves, tissue or using your costume to touch these surfaces.”

Walking directly up to doors is also discouraged, as occupants may be trying to distance or not wanting to come into contact with others, particularly if the lights are off.

“If you do walk up to a door for candy, wait your turn so that crowding doesn’t happen,” the guidance states.

Keep at least 6 feet distance from other groups in neighborhoods and “wait until you get home to inspect or eat treats.”

The county also offers guidance for those households planning to hand out treats.

At the top of the list: Wear face coverings any time you open a door or interact with others outside your household. Also, consider wearing gloves if you are going to use your hands to give treats away.

The county advises purchasing treats that are pre-packaged by a manufacturer rather than serving up homemade or loose treats, such as brownies or candy corn.

There are a number of options for how to give out those treats, including:

* One-way trick or treating where treats or bags are lined up for trick-or-treaters to grab and go from a driveway, yard or table socially distanced from the front door.

* Leaving treats in a bowl outside the front door.

* Setting up a chair and table outside so you can give out treats without opening your door. Just wear a face covering and use hand sanitizer as needed.

* Using tongs, a spatula or other grabbing utensil to give out treats.

* Asking trick or treaters to stand in a line to get their treat.

* Placing tape on the ground at least 6 feet away from the front door where trick-or-treaters can wait.

As for other Halloween activities, the county’s guidance includes a list of what presents less risk for spreading COVID and what presents more:

Lower-risk activities:
* Carving or decorating pumpkins with members of your household

* Carving or decorating pumpkins outside, at a safe distance, with neighbors or friends

* Decorating your house, apartment, or living space

* Doing a Halloween-themed scavenger hunt outdoors (physically distanced) or indoors with those you live with

* Taking a walk outside and admiring neighborhood Halloween decorations from a distance

* Having a virtual Halloween costume contest

* Hosting a Halloween movie night with people you live with

Higher risk activities:
* Participating in traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating

* Having trunk-or-treat where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in a parking lot

* Attending crowded costume parties held indoors

* Going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming

* Going on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household

* Traveling to a rural fall festival that is not in your community if you live in an area with community spread of COVID-19

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