Doctors are advising families to stay home on Halloween this year. At its Oct. 13 meeting, members of the Bethel City Council asked doctors from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation for guidance on whether trick-or-treating can happen later this month. The short answer was not safely, according to YKHC Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges.
“This is not the year to do it,” Hodges said. “We strongly believe that people should avoid getting together for for any reason, and door-to-door trick-or-treating would especially be risky in this setting.”
Hodges pointed to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases. In the last week, YKHC has announced 31 new cases in Bethel alone. The warnings from YKHC were stern. Dr. Elizabeth Bates said that the virus has been highly infectious in the region.
“We've had one person infect up to 40 individuals,” Bates said. She said that had occurred in one of the villages.
Council members asked whether the coronavirus could be transmitted in such a short interaction as just handing over candy. Hodges said yes, the virus could still be transmitted in that small a time.
“We have seen, in this outbreak in our region, many people becoming infected with very brief interactions, especially with highly symptomatic people who have high viral loads,” Hodges said.
Hodges said that if people choose to trick or treat despite the risks, households should place candy in individual bags outside, more than 20 feet away from the door. But she said that even that method of trick-or-treating would not be completely safe.
“I think just the disinfection for a candy would be difficult to achieve,” Hodges said.
Earlier in the night, Librarian Teresa Quiner said that the Kuskokwim Consortium Library was planning on hosting a haunted house that would only allow one group in at a time. Dr. Bates said that even then, coronavirus droplets could stay in the air.
“There can be no decontamination of an aerosolized virus,” Bates said.
Bates did not issue the guidance to cancel Halloween activities lightly, but she said that foregoing normal Halloween activities this year was important for Bethel’s health and safety.
“It's hard to be the person telling a community not to trick or treat,” Bates said. “I just want to acknowledge that there is grief associated with this loss, but I think it's also important to know that we have to do what we can to protect our community.”
YKHC and the City of Bethel are suggesting lower-risk activities on Halloween, like carving a pumpkin with your household or having a Halloween costume contest virtually.
An earlier version of this article stated that one person in Bethel had infected over 40 individuals. Dr. Elizabeth Bates said this had actually occurred in one of the villages.