Halloween is pretty much the most socially distanced holiday you can hope for. By “Halloween,” I want to make clear I’m talking about the type of Halloween that’s for actual youngsters and their parents to go door-to-door, not an excuse for overgrown youngsters to meet at Tequila Johnny’s dressed as their favorite pop culture reference.
For those who are still young enough to trick-or-treat, Halloween was COVID-proof before COVID-19.
Children and their guardians are outdoors. They travel in their immediate social bubble. Their contact with others is minimal and the whole thing could easily be contactless. They’re encouraged — in fact, repeatedly admonished — not to go into someone’s home or apartment under any circumstances.
In some cases, these kids were even rocking masks decades before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were recommending it. All that has to be done is expand it universally.
It could even, by golly, be seen as liberal. We’re redistributing wealth from all of the homeowners and tenants with real jobs (and/or living on retirement savings or benefits) and giving it to children in the form of candy.
Children might get money from their parents all the time, of course, but seldom for a whole pail of fun-sized 3 Musketeers bars. (An aside: Why do people always seem to think the love of 3 Musketeers bars is more universal on Halloween than it really is? And why do they think anyone likes Necco wafers, a confectionary that dates back to the pre-Civil War days and was every bit as bilious then as it is now?)
And then there were the Halloween gatherings. I don’t know about what they were like when you were a kid, but when I was young we’d have a few kids over — usually the ones I’d trick-or-treated with.
We’d play video games, trade candy and eat it, all under the watchful eyes of adults. Surely this can’t be difficult to adapt for the COVID-19 age, especially given the helicopter parent hadn’t even been invented back when I used to do this. You can hold them outdoors, even.
Given how the youngest among us have borne more than their share of the brunt of this virus — between ineffectual virtual learning and the stunting of their social growth — at least Halloween should have been a rare opportunity to allow our children, for one night, a glimpse of what life was like seven short months ago.
But of course not. Not in America’s largest county, anyhow.
According to guidance from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, “Halloween gatherings, events or parties with non-household members are not permitted even if they are conducted outdoors.” Also lumped together in the same category: “Carnivals, festivals, live entertainment, and haunted house attractions,” which are unsurprisingly not allowed.
Also not recommended are trick-or-treating or “trunk-or-treating,” where kids get candy from people in their cars. I know, the latter was usually frowned upon in the extreme when we were kids but could now be seen as a safer version of trick-or-treating.
The LA Department of Health says trick-or-treating is bad “because it can be very difficult to maintain proper social distancing on porches and at front doors, ensure that everyone answering or coming to the door is appropriately masked to prevent disease spread, and because sharing food is risky.”
“Trunk-or-treating,” meanwhile, “is also not recommended, particularly when part of Halloween events, since it is difficult to avoid crowding and sharing food.”
If you think these orders might change after pushback, I regret to tell you they’ve already been changed due to pushback. Originally, both trick-or-treating and its weird cousin, “trunk-or-treating,” were both verboten, too. After some bad viral attention (of the internet flavor, not the SARS-CoV-2 variety), the county backed down.
“For this year, it’s just simply not safe to celebrate in the ways that we usually do,” said Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County’s public health director, at a media briefing, according to KTLA-TV.
“We’re asking a lot of each other as we learn how to live through a pandemic,” she said. “Being prepared, being flexible, and constantly figuring out new ways to stay connected and have fun is our reality.”
Protests are still all good if you want to have them, though. Just saying.
So, what are the ways you can have fun in Los Angeles County?
“Online parties/contests (e.g. costume or pumpkin carving),” for one. You can also engage in a car parade so long as it’s OK with county public health guidance. Don’t you remember the joy of watching cars pass on your street as a kid? Or, even more magically, sitting in the back seat of a car and going really slowly down the block?
There are also “Halloween movie nights at drive in theaters” — which sounds great if you’re a nostalgia buff, but then you realize you’d probably be better off just watching the movie at home.
You can also have “Halloween themed meals at outdoor restaurants” (not sure what this means, but this being 2020, it probably involves overcooked spaghetti in candy corn pesto, because that’s just the year it is) and “Halloween themed art installations at an outdoor museum.”
To the extent where this is raining on the parade of adults who try to prove they’re still in touch with youth culture by dressing up as pop culture characters from three or four years ago, either for their kids or for their equally adolescent friends, I’m not particularly concerned.
However, when it comes to children, there has to be a better way to do it than this. Parents can safely enforce distancing on Halloween. Houses could advertise that they’re mask-and-distancing friendly. Los Angeles County could have offered guidance with safe trick-or-treating tips.
Nope. This is what we got.
“We do offer lots of activities that people can do that offer a fair amount of safety, because we think it’s important that we find ways to celebrate not just Halloween but all of the holidays,” Ferrer said, according to KTLA. “But during a pandemic, our ways of celebrating do need to change.”
Except that when Los Angeles County tried this kind of COVID-19 “alternative fun” plan before, it failed, and in spectacular fashion.
On July 4, instead of figuring out ways to make outdoor fireworks displays safe, they banned them entirely. Here’s how that worked out:
— Disrn (@DisrnNews) July 5, 2020
Two-to-three weeks after the Fourth of July weekend, a surge in deaths was reported in Los Angeles County. Instead of encouraging social distancing in a realistic way, they put in place a ban they couldn’t enforce.
Are we supposed to be shocked at the result?
Halloween will present the same problem. Los Angeles has neither the will nor the manpower to crack down on parties — but they can certainly scowl at parents who want to retain some semblance of normalcy for their children and their friends.
If this is the kind of holiday-related public policy fiasco we can expect from America’s largest county for Halloween, I’m sure Angelenos can’t wait until Thanksgiving to see what sorts of planning-related debacles their first pandemic-flavored holiday season holds in store.
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