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CDC: avoid trick-or-treating

Door-to-door trick-or-treating, crowded indoor costume parties and attending a rural fall festival are among the riskiest Halloween activities for spreading COVID-19, according to the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Trunk-or-treating, where children go car to car in a parking lot to collect candy, is no safer, the CDC warns, and a costume mask is no substitute for a cloth face covering that goes over the mouth and nose.

Suffolk’s drive-through alternatives planned for Oct. 17, 24 and 31 at the city’s Creekside, Whaleyville and East Suffolk recreation centers, where bags of candy will be lined up for families to grab and go, are somewhat safer, but still moderately risky. Decorating a pumpkin with members of your household or having a virtual costume contest are among the safest alternatives, the CDC advises.

In light of this guidance, Smithfield — which typically shuts down traffic on Main and Grace streets for trick-or-treat — has canceled all of its downtown Halloween activities this year, to include the annual costume contest at The Smithfield Times’ gazebo.

“Traditional trick-or-treating may still happen; we just recommend that everyone follow the CDC guidelines,” said Town Manager Michael Stallings.

Downtown Franklin’s trick-or-treat activities are also canceled, but city staff plans to deliver bags filled with candy, activities and safety materials to the doors of the first 200 households that sign up by 5 p.m. Oct. 25. Parents of children age 12 and under can sign up by calling Franklin Parks and Recreation at 757-562-2475 or emailing mdavis@franklinva.com. The drop-off will be from 4-6 p.m. Oct. 29.

The Western Tidewater Health District, which encompasses all of Isle of Wight County, Southampton County, Franklin and Suffolk, is advising area residents to check their holiday plans against the recommendations on the Halloween and Costume Association’s website, Halloween2020.org, which color-codes each locality’s COVID-19 risk based on its seven-day rolling average of new cases per capita. Localities in the green or yellow are good to go for trick-or-treating, provided neighbors have safety measures in place, while residents of orange or red zones, which indicate a higher rate of viral spread, may want to stick with at-home activities.

Suffolk and Isle of Wight County are currently orange, with the city averaging around 10 new cases per day (11 to 12 cases per 100,000) and the county, between six and seven cases. Isle of Wight, which has less than half of Suffolk’s population, is seeing six to seven new cases per day but has a per-capita average of 17 to 18.

Franklin, which has just under 8,000 residents, is seeing three to four new cases a day, but is averaging 46 new cases per capita due to its low population. Southampton County — where 146 new cases were reported in a single day on Sept. 22, largely due to a second outbreak at the Deerfield Correctional Center — is currently averaging five to six new cases per day and a per capita average of 31.6.

Lauren Brown, a mother of three from Southampton County, is planning to take her children to a combination of traditional trick-or-treating and alternative Halloween activities.

“I believe that if we can go into Walmart or a store that trick-or-treating is kind of on the same level,” she said. “I’m staying local. Not going outside of the county.”

Stephanie Broker of Isle of Wight County traditionally takes her children to a pumpkin patch, something the CDC says is moderately risky right now.

“We have never really gone full out trick-or-treating any year,” Broker said. “We stop by neighbors we know and close friends to say hi and go home on that night … that holiday generally isn’t a big one for our family, but we spread out fall activities for the whole month. So yes, even though the pandemic and everything else going on in our country, we will be going out with our children and celebrating the turn of the season.”