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Officials fear Halloween could become super-spreader horror show as L.A. County coronavirus infections rise

Events such as West Hollywood's annual Halloween Carnaval have been canceled this year.
Events such as West Hollywood’s annual Halloween Carnaval have been canceled this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

With coronavirus infections again rising in Los Angeles County, officials are increasingly alarmed at the prospect of Halloween being another event where the virus could be spread.

State and local officials have urged residents to avoid trick-or-treating and traditional Halloween parties. Here is what we know:

What is the concern about Halloween?

The last spike in coronavirus cases in California came during the summer holidays, beginning with Memorial Day as people got back to old routines after months in lockdown. Officials are hoping not to repeat that surge with the winter holidays.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Wednesday asked residents to be creative in their Halloween celebrations and to avoid trick-or-treating.

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“Door-to-door trick-or-treating is not recommended as it makes social distancing nearly impossible,” Garcetti said at his weekly news briefing. “And the same goes for what’s called trunk-or-treating, where children go from car to car instead of from house to house, since it’s difficult to avoid that very same crowding.”

Garcetti added that large Halloween parties, festivals, live entertainment and haunted house attractions were prohibited, adding: “Believe me, as a father, I know how disappointing this is for our children.” He suggested coming up with new traditions, such as a Halloween version of an Easter egg hunt.

Private gatherings had been prohibited by state rules. Last week, state officials loosened those restrictions, allowing private parties that are outdoors and include no more than three households.

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Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county would adopt the state guidelines, but warned that they are a “slippery slope” and that private gatherings should occur only sparingly.

“It was meant to address the limited number of times people may need to gather,” she said, adding that regularly mixing with a broad spectrum of people is ill-advised.

Beverly Hills’ decision came the same day state health officials released new guidelines advising Californians to skip trick-or-treating this year.

What are officials doing?

State and local officials are raising alarms — and issuing warnings.

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On Monday, California health officials voiced concerns that it’s not possible to practice social distancing while trick-or-treating and said that Día de los Muertos and Halloween celebrations would lead to interactions with people from outside one’s household.

State officials are strongly discouraging trick-or-treating and suggested that some Halloween activities, such as costume contests and pumpkin carving, move online. They recommend that families go on a walk while dressed up but forgo stopping door-to-door for candy.

“This is a recommendation,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said Tuesday. “Does that mean that trick-or-treaters will see some enforcement? Absolutely not. 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.”

The state offered the following guidance:

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Safer Alternatives for Halloween

The safest way to celebrate Halloween is to spend time with people in the same household or to celebrate virtually. Some specific alternatives that are low risk but still capture the holiday fun include:

  • Creating a haunted house or candy scavenger hunt in your home
  • Having a scary movie night and Halloween-themed activities (pumpkin carving, face painting) at home
  • Participating in online parties/contests (e.g. costume or pumpkin carvings)
  • Attending car-based outings where people do not leave their car, including drive-in events or contests or movies; driving through an area with Halloween displays
  • Eating a Halloween-themed meal with your household (or with up to two other households for a meal outside following all other gathering guidelines)
  • Enjoying a Halloween-themed art installation at an outdoor museum with your household
  • Dressing up homes and yards with Halloween-themed decorations
  • Giving treats at home only to those in your household.
  • Send a curated playlist and/or themed treats (or tricks) to your friends ahead of time.
  • Designing face masks that reflect your child/ren’s Halloween costumes
  • Prepare a Halloween basket for your children or Halloween hunt in your backyard

Safer Alternatives for Día de los Muertos

The safest way to celebrate Día de los Muertos is to spend time with people in the same household or to celebrate virtually. Some specific alternatives that are low risk but still capture the cultural celebration include:

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  • Altars: Consider placing and creating your altar in a front window or outside so others can view from a safe social distance.
  • Virtual altar: Create a virtual space to honor lost loved ones. Share with family and friends via email or social media.
  • Cemetery visits: If you visit the cemetery, only visit with those you live with, wear masks and maintain appropriate social distancing. Limit time spent to minimum necessary.

Is trick-or-treating banned anywhere?

The Beverly Hills City Council went a step further than the state guidelines Tuesday, prohibiting both house-to-house trick-or-treating and car-based trunk-or-treating on Oct. 31.

More broadly, residents will be barred from giving out candy or other holiday treats to anyone outside their immediate household.

Scofflaws could be cited if they violate the restrictions, according to the city.

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Along with trick-or-treating, spraying shaving cream on others in public will also be banned in Beverly Hills on Halloween — unless the person doing the spraying is a licensed barber with a customer.

What do the L.A. County numbers show?

California and Los Angeles County have enjoyed months of declining coronavirus cases following the summer spike.

Overall, the county’s projected transmission rate has crept past 1 to 1.05, according to new modeling from L.A. County Health Services. A rate of 1 means that an infected individual spreads the illness to an average of one other person. Beyond 1, new cases would be expected to increase.

Three weeks ago, the transmission rate had been greater than 1 before dipping. Now, the downward trend is reversing, with officials estimating that 1 in 650 residents are infected with the virus, compared with 1 in 950 last week.

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As more businesses have reopened in L.A. County over the last two weeks, an increase in infections has been connected largely to worksite outbreaks of three or more cases, Ferrer said Wednesday.

There were 39 reported worksite outbreaks in the county from Sept. 20 through Oct. 4 — a 70% jump from the 23 outbreaks reported in previous weeks.


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