Most holidays in 2020 have already been altered by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the scariest holiday of them all is likely to be no different.
Ontario health officials have recommended against the time-honoured Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating this year for residents living in Toronto, Ottawa, Peel, and York Region.
“As Ontarians begin to prepare for Halloween this year, I’d like to remind everyone to take extra precautions to ensure you are keeping yourself and your families safe,” Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health in Ontario, said in a public statement released on October 19.
“Given the high transmission of Covid-19 [cases] in the modified Stage Two of public health unit regions of Ottawa, Peel, Toronto and York Region, traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating is not recommended,” he continued.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford echoed Dr. Williams’ message, saying the cancellation of trick-or-treating is a necessary measure to protect Christmas and the upcoming holiday season.
“We’re trying to make it as safe and simple as possible […] We all know this isn’t going to be a regular Halloween,” Ford shared at a news conference held that same afternoon.
Regions unaffected by the modified Stage Two are being asked to follow a number of guidelines should they continue to plan on going trick-or-treating this Halloween. These guidelines include limiting their “safety bubbles” to members living in the same household and keeping their excursions outdoors, avoiding apartment complexes and condominiums.
Trick-or-treaters and individuals handing out candy are strongly encouraged to wear face masks. Officials have asked trick-or-treaters not to “congregate or linger at doorsteps” and to stay physically distant while waiting for their candy, suggesting that homeowners consider using tongs or other tools to distribute their treats instead of leaving them in communal buckets for visiting children to grab.
“A costume mask is not a substitute for a face covering and should not be worn over a face covering as it may make it difficult to breathe,” stated the Ontario Newsroom website.
At a separate news conference, Mayor John Tory acknowledged the “profoundly disappointing” news for children in certain regions across the Greater Toronto Area, but insisted that the measures were necessary in the face of the rising cases in and around the city.
Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch argued that the decision to cancel trick-or-treating in Ontario’s largest cities “[didn’t] sit right” with him, stating that trick-or-treaters and their parents simply required “situational awareness” to accomplish a successful Halloween.
“The goal should be to find ways to do things safely rather than cancel,” Dr. Bogoch told CTV News. “Halloween shouldn’t be too tough to do safely: outside, wearing masks, restricted to family units, [and staying] distant from others is about as low risk as it gets.”
However, Bogoch also asserted that it was important that residents continue to follow the advice and recommendations made by public health officials.
As the province reported another 704 cases and four deaths over the previous weekend, Premier Ford, following the advice of Dr. Williams, decided to “err on the side of caution” in the case that anything went awry.
“There’s very little control over it,” Dr. Williams shared at City Hall. “It’s far too possible to mix closely with others and let your guard down.”
In the place of trick-or-treating, it has been suggested that families “consider alternative ways to celebrate” Halloween in their households.
Safe activities such as organizing virtual costume parties, plotting an indoor candy hunt with members of the family, hosting a horror movie night or pumpkin carving contests, and decorating front lawns or porches in spirit of the season are encouraged.
Though officials are urging Ontarians to do their part in helping prevent the spread of Covid-19, City of Toronto Spokesperson Brad Ross indicated that the recommendations on trick-or-treating in the city is just a recommendation and that there is “no law or bylaw prohibiting it and, therefore, no law or bylaw to enforce.”
Toronto Police have made it clear that their officers will not be enforcing these rules, nor will they be handing out tickets to trick-or-treaters or their families on October 31.
As of October 22, Ontario has reported 841 new cases, the second highest daily count of cases reported since March. Forty people have died from Covid-19 in Ontario in the last week, bringing the total tally of virus-related fatalities to 3,071 and the total number of active Covid-19 infections in Ontario to 6,390.
“Things will be different this year, just like many other holidays and special occasions,” said Mayor Tory. “That’s the sad reality of this pandemic.”