TWIN FALLS, Idaho — For many, Halloween is a time for costume competitions, pumpkin carving and a night of trick-or-treating--but thanks to the pandemic, this year will look a little different.
The Magic Valley has seen a steep rise in COVID-19 cases. For the last several weeks, the area has seen a 40% increase each week in positive COVID-19 cases. As of right now, 25% of St.Luke's Magic Valley's patients are COVID-19 positive, something they say is very unusual.
"We started this week with over 40 patients with covid in our hospital, which was about a quarter of the total census," said Joshua Kern, Vice President of Medical Affairs for St. Luke's Hospital. "Which for any medical provider that's just an unprecedented thing to say that a quarter of the people in your facility are from one infectious disease."
The increase in cases comes right on the heels of Halloween--and doctors say they aren't recommending trick or treating this year.
Doctors say traditional trick or treating is a "high risk" activity because of the possibility of large groups of people. They explained even if those groups are outside, large groups of people can still spread the virus--and it can be a challenge to social distance. They also say they have concerns over a lack of masks.
Doctors also say they're concerned about kids touching candy and other things like doorknobs and door handles as they trick or treat. On highly touched surfaces, they say the risk of spreading the virus is much higher.
Here are a few reminders as we gear up to celebrate spooky season:
- Remember the 3 W’s: wash your hands, wear your mask, watch your distance.
- Stick to small groups, preferably just family. Ask kids to stay as far away from people outside your household and to wear their mask inside and outside.
- Do not use a costume mask as a substitute for a protective cloth mask unless it’s made of two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers the mouth and nose and doesn’t leave gaps around the face.
- Do not wear a costume mask over a cloth mask. This can be dangerous, making it hard to breathe. Instead, consider using a Halloween-themed cloth mask.
- If sick or exposed to the virus, stay home, isolate and do not give out candy to trick-or-treaters.
- Any gathering should follow CDC guidelines and be appropriate for the level of spread in the community.
Doctors say they do not recommend trick or treating this year. Instead, there are some alternate, low-risk activities for families to try:
- Carving or decorating pumpkins indoors with members of your household or outdoors, at a safe distance, with neighbors or friends. Display for all to enjoy!
- Decorating your house, apartment or living space.
- Having a scavenger hunt in and around your house or throughout neighborhood while distancing.
- Having a virtual costume contest or party.
- Enjoying a movie night with people you live with.
- Learning about other cultures’ celebrations, such as Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
- Making a pinata and filling it with candy for your kids to swing at (maybe they’ll let you swing, too!).
- Making and decorating spooky treats/sweets.
Some moderate risk activities are:
- Participating in one-way trick-or-treating where individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up for families to grab and go while continuing to social distance (such as at the end of a driveway or edge of a yard).
- Going to an outdoor costume parade or party – small group.
- Going to an open-air, one-way, walk-through haunted forest or an outdoor Halloween movie night with local family friends. If screaming will likely occur, greater distancing is advised.
- Visiting pumpkin patches or orchards.
"It is not a point in this pandemic that we can stop being careful," said Dr. Richard Augustus, West Valley Medical Center's Chief Medical Officer.
The following are higher risk activities, and are ones St. Luke's says it's best to avoid this year.
- Traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go door to door.
- Trunk-or-treat where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in parking lots.
- Crowded costume parties held indoors.
- Indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming.
- Hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household.
- Using alcohol or drugs, which can cloud judgement and increase risky behaviors.
- Traveling to a fall festival outside your community if you live in an area with community spread of COVID-19.
If you still end up going trick or treating with your kiddos, St. Luke's says there are a few precautions you can take to make it a bit safer.
- Establish ground rules ahead of time.
- Don’t let kids dig around a candy bowl, touching multiple pieces. Ask them to choose one and stick with it.
- Don't share or pass around props, toys, costumes or candy bowls. Ask each child to hold onto their own candy bag.
- Bring hand sanitizer and practice not touching your face.
- Take a break, do a check-in, and give kids hand sanitizer between multiple homes. This is an opportunity to remove masks with clean hands, in a safe spot away from others.
- Put bowl out on sidewalk or end of porch or make individual goodie bags for trick-or-treaters to take. Stay on porch to see trick-or-treaters.
- At the end of the night, disinfect any doorknobs, doorbells, buzzers or other high-touch surfaces outside your home.
- Put most of the candy away for the first three days that it's in your home. Maybe buy some candy ahead of time while you allow time to pass
Health officials say maintaining a distance of six feet from others, wearing face coverings and frequent hand hygiene is key to a safe and spooky night this October 31.