Most of 2020 has been altered by the coronavirus pandemic, and the spookiest night of the year is likely to be no different.
Health experts are urging caution and care during Halloween, asking that people avoid large parties and events and stay safe while trick-or-treating. Some organizations have already canceled their October events, while others are working to move the fun online.
"It's very hard for me to figure out how you're going to do the normal trick-or-treating, the normal Halloween," said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a professor of pediatric infectious diseases and health research and policy at Stanford Health Care. "Now, that said ... people can be creative."
Is trick-or-treating canceled?
Some areas have taken steps to cancel or limit trick-or-treating.
On Sept. 9, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced a ban on "door-to-door or car-to-car trick-or-treating for Halloween, along with Halloween parties, carnivals and haunted houses," though the restrictions were amended just a day later to say that officials "strongly advise against" trick-or-treating. Large parties and events are still banned.
Many areas have not yet released guidelines or restrictions on Halloween events, but restrictions around the holiday are likely to be in line with other safety guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and include recommendations for social distancing and masking.
So far, the CDC has not released specific guidance for Halloween during the pandemic, though a bipartisan group of 30 members of Congress recently wrote to CDC Director Robert Redfield and asked him to "include considerations related to COVID-19" in the center's standard Halloween safety guidance, according to The Hill.
Maldonado said she believes trick-or-treating could be done safely, but only if people are careful to distance and wear cloth face coverings.
"They might be able to do distanced events or go outdoors with two or three friends who stay apart," she said, noting that the outdoor nature of trick-or-treating would make it safer than an indoor event. "It's going to be tough, but there are creative ways to do it as long as you can stay within those parameters of distancing and masking hygiene."
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What about larger events?
Many events, including Halloween parades and large local gatherings, have already been canceled due to concerns about the coronavirus.
In Salem, Massachusetts, "many events will not be able to happen as they have in the past," according to a statement shared by Haunted Happenings, the organization that manages the month-long Halloween celebrations in the town. While events like walking tours, psychic fairs and shopping will be options, popular attractions like parades, road races and large gatherings won't be happening this year.
"We are as disappointed as you are to know that many of our favorite events cannot take place this year, but we are committed to doing our part to help protect residents, employees, and visitors and staff and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Salem," Haunted Happenings said in its statement.
Theme parks are also amending their popular Halloween plans: Disney parks have canceled their annual "Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party," and Universal Studios has canceled its Halloween Horror Nights in both its California and Florida locations.
However, there are plenty of creative, safe options in the works.
Some experiences, such as the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, are changing up operations to allow visitors to stay safely in their cars for the duration of the spooky event.
Other events are hoping to keep things small and safe: New York City's Village Halloween Parade won't have an online or virtual replacement, but parade artistic and producing director Jeanne Fleming told NBC New York that she and other organizers are considering attempting a pop-up event, where no details will be shared in advance to avoid drawing a crowd. Earlier in the year, Macy's used a similar strategy during its annual Fourth of July fireworks show.
National theme park chain Six Flags has canceled its annual Fright Fest celebration, but some parks are holding "Hallowfest," which will have limited capacity and outdoor events to limit spread of the virus. Reservations will be required and safety protocols will be in effect.
"If we can't do what we used to do, what can we do as a substitute?" said Gregg Gonsalves, an assistant professor epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut. "I think we have to learn how to do it safely. We're going to figure out how to do this responsibly."
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