Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll and Governor Charlie Baker on Wednesday implored the public to avoid the historic city between now and Halloween and said there will be early businesses closings, significant parking restrictions, and no traditional holiday events this weekend and next in an effort to thin out crowds amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Driscoll, appearing in Salem with the governor during his regular briefing, told reporters the city had announced in August that its wildly popular Haunted Happenings series of events would be canceled this year because of the health crisis.
“They’ve all been canceled,” Driscoll said, referring to the happenings, concerts, street performances, and other activities that typically draw tens of thousands of visitors every October to Salem, long known as the global epicenter of Halloween because of its history as the city that held the infamous witch trials of 1692.
She said parking garages will close to entering traffic at 2 p.m. Friday and at noon Saturday and Sunday during the next two weekends, and that fewer commuter rail trains will be stopping in Salem as a way to keep throngs of day-trippers from descending on the community. In addition, she said, businesses will have a mandatory closing time of 8 p.m. both weekends.
Normally, Driscoll said, her city welcomes tourists from “around the globe” during the Halloween season, but “this is just not the year.”
Her words were echoed by Baker, who also urged Massachusetts residents to avoid indoor Halloween parties and large gatherings. Outdoor trick or treating is safer, Baker said, but should be done only in small groups in which everyone is wearing face coverings.
“A typical Halloween weekend in Salem is not manageable with respect to the issues that the mayor and her team are talking about here today” regarding the virus, Baker said. “Vigilance is critical here.”
Statewide, he said that about 2.5 million people in Massachusetts have been tested since the start of the pandemic, and that the most recent seven-day positive test rate is 1.3 percent. And, Baker said, the “vast majority” of new positive cases over the last month have been among residents ages 19 to 39.
Many of them, Baker said, “get together with friends and others in informal settings without distancing, without wearing masks.” He reiterated that young people can fall seriously ill from the virus and can also pass it to older relatives who are at greater risk.
In Salem, Baker said, state officials are continuing to partner with local authorities to conduct inspections at local businesses for compliance with virus-related protocols. In addition, he said, signage is visible along Eastern Massachusetts highways indicating that Halloween events are not happening this year in Salem.
Looking ahead to Thanksgiving, Baker said, “This might be a good year not to travel," adding that state officials expect to release more Turkey Day guidance in the coming days.
Asked if he suffers from so-called COVID fatigue, Baker said no.
“And I don’t believe most people in Massachusetts do either,” he said, noting the high rates of compliance with face coverings and other directives. “I’ve been incredibly impressed with the way the people of Massachusetts have played this hand.”