US health officials take the scare out of Halloween

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Forget the princess outfit, the Batman suit, or the United States (US) President Donald Trump mask.

The coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on Halloween celebrations in the US this year with health officials encouraging Americans to avoid heading out for a candy-fuelled evening and to instead stay home and hold virtual parties.

“Many traditional Halloween activities can be high-risk for spreading viruses,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a statement that advised against crowded indoor costume parties or sending kids trick-or-treating.

“Going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming” is also off-limits, the agency said.

Instead, Americans are being encouraged to carve pumpkins at home or with friends and neighbours outdoors while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Virtual Halloween costume contests are also encouraged.

For those who can’t fathom ignoring one of the most popular US holidays of the year – during which kids go door-to-door to receive treats – the CDC said “one-way trick-or-treating” or socially distanced parades present a moderate risk.

It said goodie bags could be prepared in advance and placed, for example, at the end of a driveway for children to grab.

The CDC guidelines come as states across the country are grappling with how to balance health safety and fun during the annual celebration.

“Since some of the traditional ways in which this holiday is celebrated does not allow you to minimise contact with non-household members, it is important to plan early and identify safer alternatives,” the Los Angeles County Health Department said.

The county initially banned trick-or-treating and other Halloween activities but quickly walked back on that decision to change the wording to “not recommended”.