Halloween is sure to be scary this year, and fears won't be rooted just in ghosts and goblins.
The coronavirus pandemic adds a new challenge for parents wanting to keep their children safe on All Hallow's Eve. Should they be trick-or-treating? Should they gather for private parties? Should they take a year off from free candy?
"I can't control what people do on their own time," Zachary Mayor David Amrhein said. "For myself, I'm going to suggest my two grandsons don't go trick-or-treating."
Louisiana is in the third phase of its economic recovery after Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a stay-at-home order in March. The change to Phase 3 on Sept. 11 increased occupancy limits for churches and various businesses but continued a face mask requirement. The order expires Oct. 9.
Local governments have traditionally had to only set Halloween trick-or-treating hours. The pandemic this year requires them to consider state mandates governing crowd sizes and social distancing and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that name trick-or-treating in the traditional way as a high-risk activity.
Mark Armstrong, chief communications officer for East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, said decisions for Halloween have yet to be made.
"We want people to enjoy themselves, but we also want to protect our residents and our economy," he said.
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A Baton Rouge nonprofit devoted to providing needy children with their Halloween costumes and putting on a kid-friendly parade every Oct. 31 for the last 10 years decided in August it would change the way it will do things.
The parade, ball and 5K run the group usually hosts "takes so much time, we had to make a decision," said Kelley Stein, a spokeswoman for the 10/30 Consortium.
The group's Fifolet Parade has been replaced by a drive-thru event on Halloween afternoon next to Gerry Lane Buick-GMC on Florida Boulevard, where folks — in costume, it's suggested — can enjoy the sights of decorations and other costumed characters.
A "Pumpkin Pi" race encourages residents to register with the Consortium and run, walk, rollerblade or "ride on a broomstick" for 3.1 miles in their neighborhood or park any time in October.
And instead of a gala evening event, ticket holders will be able to watch special video entertainment over Halloween weekend and have dinner delivered to their door. The details are being worked out now, according to the group's website at 1031consortium.com.
"Our recommendation is that people follow the guidelines of city and state officials, based on what phase (of reopening) we happen to be in then," Stein said.
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In Central, Mayor Pro Tempore Wade Evans said he would leave it to families to make their own decisions.
"Halloween is a great opportunity to get outside, so I encourage our residents to enjoy as much as they physically can," he said. "I hope that all of the little ghouls and goblins enjoy trick-or-treating, and maybe for two hours, they live like kids and forget about the adult-created problems," he said.
West Baton Rouge and Livingston parishes have set hours but also told people it is easy to opt-out.
"They've got so many people concerned about the COVID, that if people don't want to participate, they should close their doors and turn off their lights" on Halloween night, West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley Berthelot Jr. said. "If you don't want your children going door to door, stay home."
Unless the governor restricts trick-or-treating, that will remain his advice, Berthelot said. In the meantime, he said, "We hope everybody respects wearing masks and social distancing."
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Livingston Parish Council Chair Shane Mack said things should progress like Halloweens past but "that everyone follow the governor's latest mandate."
Denham Springs has already canceled this year's Fall Fest, traditionally held in early October in the Denham Springs Antique Village. It attracts 7,000 to 8,000 people a year, but it's not easy to socially distance in the heart of the city.
Officials in Ascension Parish are also waiting to make a decision on Halloween.
"I know the CDC has recommended we don't have trick-or-treating," Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux said.
On its website, cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html, the CDC names trick-or-treating with children going door to door as a high-risk activity, along with "trunk-or-treating" events where children walk by open car trunks filled with candy to fill their treat bags.
"Right now, I feel we can have it, with some sort of restrictions. I plan to bring it to the council on Oct. 19," Arceneaux said.
In Donaldsonville, Mayor Leroy Sullivan said, "It's something we're going to think about. The safety of the kids is the most important thing."
Martin McConnell, public information officer for the Ascension Parish government, said, "We're waiting on guidance from the governor."
On Friday, Edwards spokesperson Christina Stephens said, "In general, we encourage people to follow CDC guidance, in addition to the governor’s current COVID orders.
Louisiana will move to Phase 3 of coronavirus reopening restrictions this weekend, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced this week.
"The CDC guidance is actually very helpful — with trick-or-treating for example, it suggests prewrapped treats that trick-or-treaters could pick up themselves, while everyone keeps space between families," Stephens said.
If the governor does have to impose restrictions, they would be based on the number of new cases and hospitalizations at the time, Stephens said.
On the social app Nextdoor, which helps neighbors communicate, recent ideas have included sending candy down chutes to the kids, parents driving by to throw treats to their costumed children in the yard and lining up plastic jack-o-lanterns to help kids correctly socially distance in front of houses.
Another idea there: "Might be a good time to just watch a Halloween movie."