Salem, a global epicenter of Halloween celebrations that were shelved last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is poised to require that visitors who roll in next month test negative for the virus before entering their spooky spots of choice.
The city’s Board of Health will hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. Friday to consider a mandate to require attendees at large-scale indoor events be tested for COVID-19, according to the meeting agenda.
Haunted Happenings, the city’s month-long Halloween celebration, is not specifically mentioned in the agenda item. But Mayor Kim Driscoll said on Facebook that the measure is aimed at visitors heading to the North Shore city next month.
“If you’re coming to Salem this October, getting a COVID test should be on your itinerary!” Driscoll wrote on Thursday.
She said the worrisome Delta variant is driving the testing mandate.
“Given what we have seen with the Delta variant and what we know about the number of out of state attendees at these events (balls, festivals, parties, etc.), I believe this is an entirely reasonable precaution to take,” Driscoll said.
She said the city has contracted with Curative, the company that ran several mass vaccination sites in Massachusetts, to set up a free, central testing site in the city’s downtown on the days leading up to large October events, and on the days of each bash.
The testing site will offer 15-minute rapid tests to event goers or the general public. The city is also prepared to help fund the cost of the testing “for each qualifying event” and to help communicate the new protocol to the public, Driscoll wrote.
“The City is also prepared to help fund the cost of at-the-door checks for each qualifying event, to verify the negative test status of every guest, and the cost of communicating and marketing this new protocol, as a means to have a smooth and coordinated implementation of this policy,” Driscoll wrote.
She touted what she said was Salem’s low COVID positivity and hospitalization rates, but she maintained that vigilance is paramount.
“We have front line employees working in our hotels and larger venues who may have children under 12 or immune compromised individuals they go home to in the evening and we want to provide another layer of protection,” she wrote.
State public health data published Thursday showed Salem had 159 positive COVID-19 tests in the last 14 days and a 2.58 positivity rate.
The mayor stressed that “everything should be on the table” to protect public safety amid the continuing public health crisis.
“Having a free, negative testing protocol in place as a requirement to entry for large scale, indoor events is a reasonable and evidence-based approach to keeping Salem safe, open and strong,” Driscoll wrote.
Those Haunted Happenings were ghostly quiet last year.
Driscoll, appearing in Salem in late October 2020 with Governor Charlie Baker during a briefing, told reporters the city had announced in August 2020 that the popular happenings weren’t happening that fall.
“They’ve all been canceled,” Driscoll said at the time, referring to the concerts, street performances, and other activities that typically draw tens of thousands of visitors every October to Salem, an enchanted place indelibly linked to Halloween because of its history as the city that held the infamous witch trials of 1692.
Now the events are back on, with the possible testing requirement, depending on what happens at Friday’s health board meeting.
Dominick Pangallo, Driscoll’s chief of staff, voiced support for the testing proposal via Twitter on Thursday.
“At a meeting on Friday the #SalemMA Board of Health will take up an order to require negative COVID testing for attendees of large indoor events in October,” Pangallo tweeted. “Salem has always been on the forefront of pandemic response innovations and protocols, and this rule would continue that.”