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Salem, Somerville officials pushing for scaled-down Halloween celebrations amid coronavirus pandemic

Governor Charlie Baker talked with Salem's mayor, Kimberley Driscoll, on Oct. 6 after a press conference.
Governor Charlie Baker talked with Salem's mayor, Kimberley Driscoll, on Oct. 6 after a press conference.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Add Salem and Somerville to the list of Massachusetts communities working to ensure that this year’s Halloween celebrations are extra safe — and scaled down — amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Tourists traditionally flock to Salem all month to mark the spooky celebration, and the city is widely regarded as the country’s epicenter of Halloween because of the infamous witch trials of 1692. But this weekend, Salem will impose additional restrictions downtown to discourage large gatherings, with a focus on the Essex Street pedestrian mall.

The mall, the city said in a statement, has seen big crowds the first two weeks of the month, though total numbers for October are down from previous years. On Saturday, access to the mall will be restricted from the Peabody Essex Museum side “as pedestrian volumes may require,” the statement said.

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In addition, tents on the mall will be prohibited and more barricades will be set up to limit entry lines. In addition, downtown businesses that haven’t implemented reservation systems should “implement one before this weekend.”

Mayor Kim Driscoll did what would normally be unthinkable absent a global health pandemic: She urged people to delay visiting her city of 44,000 during what is normally a peak earning season for local shops and restaurants.

“Our message to those planning a trip to Salem this October at this point is to postpone your visit,” Driscoll said in the statement. “Due to capacity restrictions, most businesses have changed to advance ticketing or, for restaurants, reservations are required. Therefore, if you do not have a ticket or a reservation right now, you won’t be able to get in anywhere.”

Driscoll added: “We want our residents, visitors, and workers to be safe, and our visitors to have the [best] possible experience when they come to Salem, and that’s just not possible this year.”

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Friday’s announcement follows several previous measures the city had taken to keep the public safe during the health crisis. Those measures include postponing the shift to the second step of Phase III of the statewide reopening; limiting table capacity at restaurants to six; canceling all Haunted Happenings parades, balls, festivals, and large events; barring street performers from the central downtown area; and instituting a mandatory mask zone downtown and inside businesses.

Salem said in a separate statement on its website that residents may decide on their own if children go trick-or-treating on Oct. 31. Anyone who does must comply with state public health guidelines for the holiday.

In Somerville, officials said Friday that Mayor Joe Curtatone and the city Board of Health “strongly encourage” families to skip trick-or-treating on Halloween night and opt for lower-risk fun as defined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as at-home activities and holiday crafts.

Curtatone seemed to acknowledge that could be a tough sell to kids.

“We fully understand how difficult it has been for everyone, and especially our children, to deal with a sustained state of emergency,” he said in a statement. “But as we face a rise locally and statewide in COVID-19 cases with the arrival of colder weather, we cannot let our guard down now.”


Somerville officials also said all in-person city-sponsored and permitted events, like the popular annual Haunted Hall and block parties, won’t be held or permitted this year. Plus, gatherings of more than 10 people aren’t allowed in the city.

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Somerville and Salem are hardly the only communities adjusting their Halloween protocols to guard against the spread of the deadly contagion.

Wellesley officials said Wednesday that the town Recreation Department is offering family-friendly activities this month so people can stay safe. While calling trick-or-treating a “personal decision for families,” the town promoted the fifth annual Howlin’ Haunted Halloween House contest, urging residents to participate by decorating their homes and yards with a Halloween theme to win prizes.

Last week, 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 canceled,” 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.

And Chicopee’s mayor, John L. Vieau, has been urging residents to find other ways to celebrate Halloween, too.

“Trick-or-treating door-to-door is just not safe,” Vieau said in a recent statement 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.”

Brookline is also discouraging trick-or-treating, and won’t approve any street closures or block parties this year.

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Governor Charlie Baker has said the state won’t formally cancel Halloween, but people need to avoid large gatherings and continue to adhere to social distancing guidelines and other public health protocols.

Material from previous Globe stories was included in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.