Halloween will be unusually weird this year.
Across the state, costume parties, parades, haunted houses, and other October festivities have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and parents are scrambling to figure out how to celebrate the holiday safely. Meanwhile, cities and towns are wrestling with a scary proposition: whether to call off treat-or-treating entirely.
On Monday the town of Leicester announced that trick-or-treating would not be happening this year.
“Due to COVID-19, trick or treating in the Town of Leicester has been cancelled,” officials wrote on Facebook. “We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.”
The town joined a handful of other municipalities — including Worcester and Springfield — that are prohibiting trick-or-treating in an effort to prevent further spread of the virus.
Chicopee Mayor John L. Vieau has been urging residents to find other ways to celebrate Halloween.
“Trick-or-treating door-to-door is just not safe,” Vieau said in a statement posted on the city’s website. “There is too much potential for community spread. Participation in traditional Halloween activities should be avoided. I feel our residents can come up with some pretty creative options that would be both safe and fun.”
The town of Brookline is also discouraging trick-or-treating, and will not be approving any street closures or block parties this year.
“Door to door trick-or-treating is contradictory to the efforts we’ve all made throughout this pandemic, so I want to encourage everyone to consider safer alternatives,” Brookline Public Health Commissioner Swannie Jett said in a statement. “We have done tremendous work as a community to keep our overall COVID-19 risk low to this point, and we want to ensure we’re doing everything we can by taking reasonable precautions while still celebrating Halloween.”
Governor Charlie Baker said the state would not be canceling Halloween, but people need to avoid large gatherings and continue to adhere to social distancing guidelines and other public health protocols.
“The reason we’re not canceling Halloween is because that would have turned into thousands of indoor Halloween parties, which would have been a heck of a lot worse for public safety and for the spread of the virus than outdoor, organized, and supervised trick-or-treating," Baker said at a press conference Tuesday in Salem.
Salem has canceled most of its Haunted Happenings celebration and has implemented strict safety and social distancing measures to avoid large crowds that flocked to the North Shore city last weekend.
Baker said trick-or-treaters should only go out in small groups and everyone must wear masks. People who want to give out candy should also wear masks and gloves and limit their contact with trick-or-treaters by laying out little bags of candy or individually wrapped ones on a cookie sheet, he said.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health also advises that people carry hand sanitizer and use it often “especially after coming into contact with frequently touched surfaces and before eating candy.”
The department offered several safety tips on Wednesday for anyone celebrating Halloween.
Instead of traditional trick-or-treating, people should leave treats outside on a platter for trick-or-treaters to take, along with hand sanitizer, health officials said. People can also decorate their yards in a way that allows people to enjoy from a car or on a socially distanced walk.
Rather than meet in person, health officials suggest holding virtual costume contests and pumpkin carving events.
Crowded indoor costume parties should be avoided. People should also not go to indoor haunted houses or haunted houses where people may be crowded together and screaming, as well as going on hayrides or tractor rides with people not in their households.
In Northampton, local officials are recommending that residents position a table between themselves and trick-or-treaters and use duct tape to mark 6-foot lines in front of their homes to ensure youngsters are keeping safe distance from each other.
Worcester officials are asking residents not to do traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating and instead find a more viable and safe option due to the city’s high-risk status for COVID-19.
Worcester officials plan on sharing ideas on how to celebrate the holiday over the next few weeks, he said, to help “make sure we’re maintaining the safety that I know we all want for young people.”
In Quincy, trick-or-treating is running the same as it has in the past, according to Christopher Walker, the mayor’s chief of staff.
“Quincy does not regulate trick-or-treating and never has, so we’re not canceling Halloween,” Walker said in a telephone interview Wednesday, adding that Quincy has never had time restrictions for trick-or-treating as other communities typically do.
Residents are encouraged to make decisions they’re comfortable with, Walker said, and to make their own calls.
“And if they’re not comfortable going door-to-door, that’s fine too,” he said.
While Wellesley isn’t making any plans to cancel trick-or-treating this year, town officials are trying to remind residents to actively follow CDC and state Health Department guidelines for whichever they choose.
“We feel like trick-or-treating is really a family or parent decision, not really a town government one, so we are reminding parents to remain aware of the gatherings order and mask order, as well as making sure their children are wearing both a COVID-19 mask along with their costume mask,” said Stephanie Hawkinson, communications and project manager for the Town of Wellesley.
Hawkinson said the town is also trying to offer alternatives, such as a Halloween version of their summer movie series, where a movie is played on a 40-foot screen, and mapping out a Halloween house decorating contest so families can go and visit the spooky haunts.
Correspondent Andrew Stanton contributed to this story.
Emily Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22. Breanne Kovatch can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @breannekovatch.