The scariest thing about Halloween this year in some Massachusetts communities isn’t something make-believe. It’s the very real threat of the deadly Eastern equine encephalitis virus.
So some local officials are rethinking the suggested times for trick-or-treaters to roam their neighborhoods.
EEE is a rare disease transmitted by mosquitoes. There have been 12 human cases of EEE this season in Massachusetts. Three people have died from it.
After a recommendation from the Department of Public Health, many communities deemed “high and critical” risk for the virus are already restricting outdoor activities from dusk to dawn until a hard frost, a period of at least four consecutive hours of temperatures below 28 degrees, kills the remaining mosquitoes.
State officials noted Friday, however, that “risk assessments are more nuanced at this time of year” because as temperatures dip below 50 degrees in the evenings, mosquitoes are unlikely to be active and people are wearing long sleeves and pants.
“Communities may wish to consider this information when making decisions about scheduling or cancelling planned outdoor events late in the season,” the Department of Public Health said in a statement.
Methuen Mayor James Jajuga announced this month that trick-or-treating in his city will now occur from 4:30 to 6 p.m. instead of the traditional hours of 5 to 7 p.m. due to the risk of EEE.
“Based on the weather projections for the rest of this month, it is unlikely that such a hard frost will occur before Halloween,” Jajuga said in a statement. “While no one welcomes this inconvenience, I will continue to prioritize the health and safety of the children and other residents of Methuen.”
City officials considered moving trick-or-treating to the weekend but decided this would cause more inconvenience for families than moving it to earlier on the same day, Jajuga said.
In Framingham, trick-or-treating times have not been changed but officials offered precautions that residents can take to protect themselves.
“Halloween is a time-honored tradition, and we want everyone in Framingham to enjoy the festivities and stay safe,” Mayor Yvonne Spicer said in a statement. “In addition to the traditional holiday fun, we are opening City Hall for the second annual Spook-tacular.”
Framingham’s City Hall will host trick-or-treaters Oct. 29 from 4 to 6 p.m.
Framingham Director of Public Health Samuel Wong advised that those who want to trick-or-treat after dusk should be aware of the risk, apply insect repellent, and wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, socks, and shoes.
Officials in Uxbridge, Easton, Carver, Grafton, and Brookfield are waiting a little longer before coming to a decision about Halloween trick-or-treating.
“The initial thoughts are to strongly recommend to parents that they do their trick-or-treating before 6 p.m.,” Carver Health Agent Kevin Forgue said in an e-mail.
Jeffrey Landine, the chairman of the Brookfield Recreation Committee, said officials have begun discussing contingency plans for Halloween.
“The conversation revolves around, ‘What if we don’t have the hard freeze necessary?’ ” he said.