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L.A. County walks back Halloween ban, says trick-or-treating ‘not recommended’

Daniel Nazaryan of Tujunga collects candy at the Montrose Trick-or-Treat Spooktacular in October 2017.
(Tim Berger / Times Community News)

Less than a day after issuing new health guidelines that banned trick-or-treating and other Halloween activities, Los Angeles County public health officials walked back the decision Wednesday.

Citing an inability to maintain safe social distancing and the potential for gatherings beyond household members, county officials initially nixed trick-or-treating along with other Halloween traditions, including haunted houses and parades.

But Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Wednesday that the guidelines have been “slightly revised.”

Ferrer said the change distinguishes between activities originally prohibited under the health officer order from activities that are “not recommended.”

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“This year, it’s just not safe to celebrate in the ways we usually do,” Ferrer said. “We are recommending that trick-or-treating not happen this year.”

The Department of Public Health previously said that because some of the traditional ways in which Halloween is celebrated do not allow contact with nonhousehold members to be minimized, it is important to identify safer alternatives.

“Trunk-or-treat” events involving car-to-car candy dispersal, which are sometimes held by churches or schools, also are not recommended under the revised order.

Knott’s Scary Farm is canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as are other California theme parks’ Halloween events.

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The news was not well-received by some residents, and even a few celebrities took umbrage with the rules. (Warning: Link includes profanity.)

“I do not agree with the new measures in place,” said Joanna Cortez, an Elysian Valley resident with two nieces and a baby on the way.

“Trick-or-treating is an outdoor activity,” she said, noting that wrapped and packaged candy can easily be sanitized before being consumed. “We can have measures in place like social distancing and leaving out candy in a bowl for children versus actually handing out candy.”

But other community members weren’t so sure. James Lamb said that in previous years, he’s had hundreds of trick-or-treaters at his Burbank home on Halloween, but in light of the pandemic, it doesn’t seem like a good idea this year.

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“I don’t think there is any good alternative at this point, short of buying your own kids candy and just staying home, unfortunately,” said Lamb, the father of an immunocompromised child.

Health officials insist it can be difficult to maintain proper social distancing on porches and at front doors when children are trick-or-treating.

But L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn said that “even a pandemic can’t cancel Halloween.”

“In fact, it’s the only day of the year we were expected to wear masks before this crisis started,” said Hahn, whose Fourth District includes many of the beach cities. “Be safe, practice physical distancing and get creative about how you celebrate with your kids this year,” she said in a statement.

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Representatives from the candy industry also added their voice in opposition to the earlier ban on trick-or-treating.

“There will be regional differences across the country in the way that people are going to celebrate the Halloween season throughout the month of October,” said Carly Schildhaus of the National Confectioners Assn.

“We’re pleased that the Public Health Department in L.A. County is reassessing their earlier decision that really lacked creativity when it comes to trick-or-treating and Halloween.”

Other Halloween events, including large gatherings or parties with nonhousehold members — either indoors or outside, will not be permitted under the new health order.

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The latest guidelines also prevent carnivals, festivals and haunted house attractions, and instead encourage online parties, car parades that comply with vehicle parade protocols and Halloween movie nights at drive-in theaters that meet health and safety standards.

Annual Halloween events such as Knott’s Scary Farm and the Oogie Boogie Bash at Disneyland have already been canceled because of the pandemic.

The county won’t strip away all Halloween celebrations. Halloween meals at outdoor restaurants, Halloween-themed art installations at outdoor museums and dressing up homes and yards with decorations are still allowed — provided they comply with countywide COVID-19 protocols.

The announcement follows a scorching hot Labor Day weekend, in which public health officials urged residents to stay home to avoid holiday-related outbreaks such as those tied to Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

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As of Wednesday, COVID-19 has claimed more than 13,900 lives in California, with over 746,000 confirmed cases.

Times staff writer Jaclyn Cosgrove contributed to this report.


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