Newsletter: Trick-or-treating ‘strongly discouraged’

A little kid dressed up as a bunny
A tiny bunny makes her way with other trick-or-treaters during a pre-pandemic Halloween celebration in Orange.
(Alex Garcia / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, Oct. 14, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

As if 2020 hasn’t already been scary enough, the most frightening day of the year is nearly upon us. But how do you Halloween during a pandemic?

Acknowledging that the question was top of mind for many families with children, California’s health secretary issued new guidance for Halloween celebrations on Tuesday.

[Read the story: “Californians shouldn’t trick-or-treat this Halloween, state health officials say” in the Los Angeles Times]


Here’s what you need to know:

The top-line piece of information, according to California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, is that COVID-19 continues to pose a very real risk in the state, and traditional Halloween activities such as trick-or-treating and parties will pose especially high risks during this time.

The safest way to celebrate Halloween this year — which, coincidentally, happens to mirror the safest way to do most things during a pandemic — remains at home, with your own household.

Door-to-door trick-or-treating and Halloween parties are “strongly discouraged” by the state. “The whole act of going door-to-door in groups, ringing doorbells, digging into buckets of delicious candy create a risk of spreading COVID-19,” Ghaly said. He also noted that trick-or-treating could pose a particular nightmare for contact tracing if a positive case is discovered after the fact.

So is trick-or-treating actually banned in California?

In a word, no. The state didn’t issue any hard and fast Halloween rules (unlike, say, L.A. County’s original trick-or-treating ban, which officials quickly walked back), but instead opted for strongly worded recommendations. Errant trick-or-treaters will not be subject to any kind of state enforcement, according to Ghaly.


“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,” he said.

Ghaly also noted that local health departments may have additional restrictions for Californians at the county level.

What should we do instead?

Ghaly’s advice for safer alternatives included in-home candy hunts or haunted houses, pumpkin carving and “designing face masks that match your Halloween costume.”

The health secretary also recommended taking part in virtual or distanced Halloween festivity options, such as online costume contests, Halloween art installations at outdoor museums and drive-through celebrations at which people do not leave their cars. (That last part about not leaving your car is the crux, as anyone who saw headlines about the “drive-in” Chainsmokers concert in the Hamptons that left New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “appalled” surely knows.)

For those in search of safe fun, here’s a roundup of drive-in, socially distant or virtual Halloween events in the Bay Area, a guide to Los Angeles-area Halloween drive-through experiences, a citywide Halloween car scavenger hunt in Redding, a virtual San Francisco costume contest and some spooky destinations around the state.


And if you still need costume ideas, Ghaly said his 11-year-old child was planning to dress up as the NBA bubble, and his 7-year-old “wants to figure out how to dress up like the coronavirus.”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

The Supreme Court ruled for the Trump administration and upheld its decision to halt the collection of census data now, rather than continue until the end of this month, as originally planned. The decision is a setback for communities including the city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County, which joined with civil rights leaders in suing to block the administration’s plan to end the count early. Los Angeles Times

Potential PG&E blackouts and fire risk in Northern California: Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has warned that about 50,000 customers in portions of 21 counties, including most Bay Area counties, will probably face preemptive electricity cuts starting Wednesday and lasting potentially into Friday. A red flag warning for extreme fire danger will be in place in parts of the Bay Area from 5 a.m. Wednesday through 11 a.m. Friday. San Francisco Chronicle

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


When can school reopen in L.A. County? Here are the issues at play in what is emerging as a confusing patchwork of rules and policies. Los Angeles Times


Citizen Penn: Nobody exactly asked Sean Penn if he would help set up one of the country’s most impressive coronavirus testing programs. And yet, under the auspices of his nonprofit, CORE, that’s what he did at Dodger Stadium. GQ

What does a city smell like? A restaurant critic conjures her own “personal smell museum of Los Angeles” in this lovely piece. New York Times

L.A. superchef Nancy Silverton is slinging burgers at Chi Spacca on Saturdays. The challenge appears to be getting your hands on one before they sell out. Los Angeles Magazine

A spirited rally was not enough for the Dodgers: They now face a daunting 0-2 deficit in the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves. Los Angeles Times

Support our journalism

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L.A. County to pay out $14 million over unlawful immigration holds: The county agreed to the payment to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging that the Sheriff’s Department routinely held people in jail beyond their release dates solely because of pending immigration investigations. Los Angeles Times



Judge Amy Coney Barrett says her past criticisms of rulings on abortion and Obamacare don’t signal how she would vote now. Barrett spent most of the second day of her Supreme Court confirmation hearing batting away Democrats’ predictions that she would provide the final vote needed to invalidate the Affordable Care Act and substantially rein in abortion rights, but she struggled to reconcile assurances that she had an open mind with her past writings that demonstrated strong opinions. Los Angeles Times

Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Dick Durbin talk
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (seen speaking to Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois during Tuesday’s confirmation hearing) repeatedly pressed Judge Amy Coney Barrett to give her opinion on prior abortion rulings during the question-and-answer session.
(Kevin Dietsch / AFP via Getty Images)

Signature errors could disenfranchise a record number of voters in the election. Here in California, if you forget to sign your mail-in ballot envelope or your signature has been challenged, county election officials will send you either a signature verification statement or an unsigned ballot statement to fill out and return. But the best way to avoid potential issues is to make sure you sign your ballot envelope. Los Angeles Times

Also, don’t put hand sanitizer on your ballot. Sacramento County has reported ballots coming in with smeared print probably due to being sprayed with disinfectant. A county spokeswoman told the Bee that the ballots, which are inside envelopes, have not been touched by human hands for days or likely more than a week when they arrive at your door. Sacramento Bee

For those still researching their ballot decisions: The Times’ editorial board will host a live event Wednesday night to discuss the thinking behind its endorsements in some of California’s most important races. If you’re a subscriber, register for special access to a chat with the writers during the show. If you’re not a Times subscriber, you can follow on Twitter and YouTube to watch the event live. Los Angeles Times

(And in case I haven’t reiterated it enough in the last few weeks, the editorial board operates independently from the newsroom, two separate entities, reporters had no say in these endorsements, etc.)



When cops abuse social media, the results are explosive. Police officers have free speech rights, and across California and the U.S., departments are grappling with how to balance those protections with the potential for commentary that can trigger explosive responses, putting the profession further on the defensive. Los Angeles Times


Michelin won’t be awarding California restaurants stars after all. Two months after stating it planned to give stars to California restaurants based on pre-pandemic dining inspections, the influential guide backtracked, citing feedback from restaurants “severely impacted” by COVID-19 and wildfires. San Francisco Chronicle

Social justice advocates want a life-sized Gov. Pete Wilson statue removed from downtown San Diego. “Critics say Wilson should be judged harshly for his support in 1994 of Proposition 187, which sought to stem illegal immigration by cutting off state services to undocumented people. The voter-approved ballot measure was eventually ruled unconstitutional.” San Diego Union-Tribune

A poem to start your Wednesday: “I wanted to be surprised.” by Jane

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Los Angeles: sunny, 93. San Diego: sunny, 80. San Francisco: partly sunny, 78. San Jose: partly sunny, 87. Fresno: sunny, 87. Sacramento: sunny, 91. More weather is here.



Today’s California memory comes from Doyla Rosati:

My family and I lived in the Russian Hill district of San Francisco in the mid-1950s. My first crush was the blond neighbor who owned a record player and a spring-action rocking horse, both very desirable. The older man who lived in the apartment below us listened to the weekly radio broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera with his windows open, instilling in me a love of opera I still enjoy. My mother would buy borscht from the corner grocery, while I stood guard outside the store in full “cowboy” attire, the unofficial “Sheriff of Russian Hill.”

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.