COVID-19 has claimed its next holiday victim in Durham: trick or treating on Halloween.
Donning a witch’s hat, Steve Schewel announced last week that Oct. 31 celebrations must look different this year to keep Durham residents safe.
Durham Parks and Recreation has created stand-in events to make sure this spooky season does not get overlooked, Schewel promised.
“Durham residents have done a great job suppressing the coronavirus, wearing masks and social distancing and washing hands,” Schewel said during a press conference posted online. “The last thing that we want is for Halloween to become a super spreader event in our community.”
With North Carolina reporting over 230,000 cases, Durham County currently accounts for less than 1% of the cases in the state, but there have still been over 8,000 reported cases and 97 reported deaths here, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
Schewel said he spoke with leaders of neighborhood that usually get the most trick-or-treaters, other North Carolina mayors and the Secretary of Health and Human Resources, Mandy Cohen, to explore how to handle Halloween during this pandemic.
Outdoor mass gatherings are still limited to 50 people, meaning that the usual masses of costumed trick-or-treaters can not flood the streets.
Club Boulevard in the Watts Hospital-Hillandale neighborhood usually attracts so many trick-or-treaters along one mile that the city usually dispatches traffic cones and police officers to protect the masses of children. They will not do so this year, to emphasize that trick-or-treaters should not flood Club Boulevard or nearby streets accustomed to big crowds.
Normally people there leave their porch lights on to welcome candy seekers, but this year Schewel is urging residents to turn them off. “We know we can’t make this all work through enforcement, we have to make it work through our community voluntarily complying,” Schewel said.
But can it?
Tom Miller, who has lived in the Watts Hospital-Hillandale neighborhood since 1983, trusts that people there are committed to discouraging the 1,000-plus trick-or-treaters they have welcomed in years past.
He does worry, however, that not everyone will be aware of the new situation and still come to the neighborhood.
“People in my neighborhood do not want to spread COVID or be responsible for anyone becoming ill,” Miller said. “I won’t be surprised if people don’t get the word and come here. I’m worried about that. But I don’t believe that you’re going to see people on the street setting up this year as normal.”
Watts Hospital-Hillandale residents, who in the past have possibly drawn the most trick-or-treaters citywide, will post signs around their neighborhood about a week before to make the message explicit.
“I urge other of the busiest Halloween neighborhoods to do the same,” said Schewel, who lives on leafy Club Boulevard near Ninth Street. He estimated more than 1,500 trick-or-treaters from Durham and out of town visited last year for candy.
Although residents hate to post signs to deter one of their favorite holiday traditions, this year’s restrictions are necessary, said Dot Doyle, Watts Hospital-Hillandale Neighborhood Association president.
“If we have 1,500 children and their grown ups, that’s four or maybe five thousand people on the sidewalks in five blocks, which is just not possible with social distancing,” Doyle said, adding that she hopes she and neighbors can welcome everyone back in 2021.
Residents of Monmouth Avenue in Trinity Park, another popular destination, have found an alternative way to hand out treats this year. They plan to assemble candy bags they’ll donate to the Durham Children’s Initiative.
“On my block of Monmouth Avenue, we get over 1,300 kids,” said Pela Gereffi, who personally handed out 1,178 pieces of candy last year. “But we decided to go by what the mayor had stated — we’re not going to celebrate Halloween. We’re going to turn off our lights.”
“Trunk or treat” events of the past, where large groups of children gather in church parking lots to move from car to car, are also too dangerous for this year, Schewel said. Faith communities can celebrate through touchless drive-thru trick or treating in church parking lots.
The City of Durham has posted suggestions online too, down to wardrobe coaching. “Costume masks should not be placed over a cloth mask as it will make it hard to breathe. Instead, it is suggested that participants use a Halloween-themed cloth mask over the costume mask,” the post says.
“If your family wants to trick or treat with a few other families, this is encouraged, as long as you pre-arrange the visits, the groups are small and outside only, everyone is wearing a Covid-safe mask and the transmission of treats is touchless,” Schewel said.
Durham Parks and Recreation All Hallows’ Eve events will be open to the public, but to limit crowd sizes, pre-registration is required. Among the events:
“Fright Night” is a drive-thru event that will be held on Oct. 23 from 6-9 p.m. at Pineywood Park. Participants are encouraged to dress in Halloween costumes and participate in a safe, drive-thru trunk or treat. There will also be a haunted drive-thru trail, and a socially distanced viewing of “James and the Giant Peach” on the lawn. This event will cost $1.50 for city residents and $6.50 for non-city residents.
“Vamp It Up” will be a virtual Zoom event hosted on Oct. 30 from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Participants can pick up supplies beforehand on Oct. 23 at the Edison Johnson Recreation center. Supplies will include an arts and crafts activity, candy, and a snack such as pretzels or cheez-its. Participants are encouraged to dress in their Halloween costumes for the virtual event.
The night before Halloween, the Holton Career and Resource center will host a drive-thru event “Trick or Treat, Stay Six Feet.” Participants will need to pre-register for a time slot within 6-8 p.m. Kids will drive to the parking lot and remain in their vehicles to receive free, contactless candy and treats.
The 32nd annual “Hallow-Eno” will still take place this year, on Oct. 31 from 6-9 p.m. Participants will drive-thru West Point on the Eno’s historic area, and remain in their car to observe the Halloween decorations along the historic park loop, receive goody bags and take-home activities, and enjoy live Halloween music.
The “Full Moon Fever Bike Ride – Halloween/Blue Moon Ride” will take place on Oct. 31 too from 7:30-10:30 p.m. A community trail watch group will have two start times and locations. The first ride will be approximately 32 miles, and the second ride will be approximately 16 miles.
“Dias de los Muertos,” a virtual event to celebrate Mexico’s traditional Day of the Dead, happens Nov. 2 from 10-11 a.m.
“Halloween will be different this year, but Halloween will still be wonderful this year,” Schewel predicted. “I urge all of our residents to be as creative as you can.”
9th Street Journal reporter Kathleen Hobson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
At top: During this presidential election year, Donald Trump and Joe Biden masks are among the offerings at Spirit Halloween on Fayetteville Road. Photo by Henry Haggart