Ontario – a province where the government has hesitated to shut down bars, casinos, spin clubs, church services and other evidence-based high-risk settings – has said “no” to Halloween in the coronavirus “hot zones” of Toronto, Peel, York and Ottawa. One would be hard-pressed to imagine a lower-risk activity than walking around outdoors wearing a mask, collecting candy in a physically distanced manner, but Ontario public-health officer David Williams has decreed that Halloween must be deep-sixed in the city nicknamed The Six (and elsewhere near Toronto).
Meanwhile, Quebec – which has been much harder hit by COVID-19 than its neighbour – has said trick-or-treating is okay, as long as precautions are taken. Folks in that province appear to understand that locking kids in the house on one of the most hallowed nights of the year is sheer cruelty.
It all adds up to bad public health – not to mention terrible politics.
Public health is about harm-reduction, about finding ways for people to live while minimizing their risks as much as possible. It’s not about depriving them of all pleasure.
Banning Halloween also plays into the hands of those who oppose any sort of restrictions. When you impose unrealistic and unjustified rules, you erode trust. If you can cram 30 kids into a classroom, how can you argue that they can’t walk around outside in small groups?
Ontarians have endured months of constant mixed messaging and ham-fisted, irrational regulations. There might not be much trust left to spare.
This year has been a nightmare, so it’s only fitting that we unleash the ghouls and goblins for an evening of fun. The kids – and, yes, their parents – have earned it. No one is suggesting a free-for-all, but with a little imagination and creativity, Halloween can happen.
Even Theresa Tam, Canada’s by-the-books chief medical health officer, has said that trick-or-treating can be done safely.
She suggested doling out candy at the door using a hockey stick, an all-Canadian solution if there ever was one. (To be clear, candy should be deposited gently into kids' bags using the blade of the stick; trying to slapshot bonbons into kids' mouths from the end of the hallway is not recommended, unless you have Gretzky-esque talents.)
Another brilliant suggestion? Installing candy chutes – plastic pipes or slides that can deliver treats from a two-metre distance. Toronto plumber Geoff Burke has designed a simple system involving securing a PCV pipe to a railing, and he’s created more than 400 of the contraptions in exchange for $25 donations to the Toronto Food Bank.
Needless to say, we all have different levels of risk-tolerance. Some parents won’t want their kids going door-to-door; others will be afraid to hand out candy, even at a distance. That’s okay.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have modified the way we work, play and live in countless ways. We can embrace some new Halloween traditions too.
Pumpkin-carving can be a fun family activity. So can indoor candy scavenger hunts and scary-movie nights. The key is to do these activities within your household or your “bubble.”
You could also organize an outdoor and distanced costume parade on your street or a virtual costume party online.
But there are some things to remember about costumes. Masks are de rigueur. Plastic masks should not be worn over cloth masks.
In fact, one of the best costumes for Halloween 2020 would be a health-care worker – a doctor, nurse or personal-support worker (who go by the moniker “guardian angel” in Quebec), complete with mask, gloves and hand sanitizer.
Handwashing also has to be an integral part of our pandemic Halloween. Let the kids stuff their faces with candy – again, they deserve it – but to be safe, make sure they wash their hands between unwrapping and scarfing.
We’ve spent months being spooked by a virus. It’s time for a little pushback.
Of course, that doesn’t mean adults should be out partying or holding large, alcohol-soaked Halloween gatherings. That’s a no-go, and that’s where public-health officials and politicians should be focusing their attention.
If you want to pick on someone, target the self-centered buffoons who gathered at an anti-mask protest in downtown Toronto on Saturday. Enforce the rules that protect the public. Leave the kids alone.
If we limit our contacts, practise physical distancing, wear masks and wash our hands – the normal rituals of daily life in these spooky times – there’s no reason Halloween can’t go off without a hitch.
This isn’t karaoke. It’s not bingo. It’s not meat-packing. This is masked, distanced candy-collecting. To suggest that is dangerous is downright diabolical.
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