PACIFIC COUNTY — Trick-or-treaters are currently picking out costumes and making plans for Halloween. At the same time, local communities are weighing options on handling Halloween this year while the country remains in the tight grasps of the covid-19 pandemic.
The Willapa Harbor Chamber of Commerce normally organizes downtown trick-or-treating with local businesses in Raymond and South Bend. On Sept. 30 the chamber announced it was not organizing this year’s event, leaving the tradition up in the air and hundreds feeling like Halloween has been canceled.
“[Halloween] is not canceled,” Chamber Director Michelle Layman said. “We just aren’t heading it up [this year]. We just are not taking the liability of organizing it. We just can’t take all the liability of giving the pumpkins out, but if there is a business that wants to do it, then, by all means, they can do it.”
The chamber’s decision comes after Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee urged residents not to trick-or-treat and the Center for Disease Control labeled trick-or-treating, including its variations as a high-risk activity for spreading covid-19.
SB chooses to hand out candy
The City of South Bend has already decided to offer candy for trick-or-treaters but outside and socially distanced.
“We will be putting a table outside [city hall], and if it’s raining, we will put up a pop-up canopy, but we will not have them inside the lobby,” Mayor Julie Struck said. “We will hand out candy from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. as usual on Friday, Oct. 30, like we normally do.”
Struck continued, “I would bet there aren’t going to be as many kids probably, but who knows. We still have some discussion to have internally, but I was thinking if we even took one of our 6ft tables and stuck candy at one end of it so that we could throw or slide it down the table. You know to stay 6ft apart.”
Some local businesses in South Bend are also expected to set-up outside and hand out candy to trick-or-treaters. According to Struck, at least one bank has shown interest; she assumes more will follow, even though the plans could be scrapped at the last minute.
“[Officials] have not been that harsh here, but they could [stop us],” Struck said. “And if they did, we would close up shop because it is not worth the penalty if someone gets covid and says ‘well I trick-or-treated at city hall and they were told to shut down and didn’t.’ Then we are liable even though we are outside and staying 6ft away.”
Struck continued, “[but trick-or-treating door to door being labeled high-risk] I just don’t understand because kids are outside. If they go inside people’s homes, that is different, but just going door to door and getting a treat, how is that dangerous? I think [the labeling] is mainly because it brings people together for larger gatherings maybe is what they’re thinking.”
Raymond duo trying to save Halloween
Another pop-up event is being planned in Raymond by Jessica Yearout and Crystal Singletary, who are organizing a trunk-or-treat at the 8th Street Skate Park.
“We are trying to do something normal for the community kids,” Singletary said. “We will be implementing social distancing and safety precautions. We are really still in the planning stages of it to see what is safest for everyone involved.”
Singletary continued, “we are not trying to do anything reckless or crazy, but everyone needs to take responsibility if they want this to happen. We plan to go forward with this with caution and preparedness. But we really just want to do something fun for the kids in the community.”
The idea, according to Singletary, is to either have cars set up socially distanced where children can pass through or do drive-thru trick-or-treating that further enables social distancing.
As of reporting, several businesses have signed up in support of and to sponsor the event, including Seiler Homes, Barnum Homes, Jayden’s German Store, and Dr. Nevitt.
Potential legal issues
The primary reason for the chamber deciding to withdraw from organizing any trick-or-treating came down to liability. Concerns arose after the CDC’s guidelines were made public that if any localized outbreak were caused by trick-or-treating where a child or parents took part in an organized event, the sponsors could be held legally responsible.
Sources speaking under the anonymity condition admitted that by leaving the decision to businesses whether or not to offer candy, it makes any threat of liability more difficult as it would be harder to prove a single entity as responsible for any outbreak should one result from trick-or-treating.
County weighs in
South Bend and organizers of the trunk-or-treat have spoken directly with Pacific County officials, including Pacific County Emergency Management Agency Director Scott McDougall, about the liability concerns and what would happen if they disobeyed a state mandate.
“The stance from the health department at this point is that we’re going to take an educational approach to all the activities around Halloween,” McDougall said. “We are still [two weeks] out, so there will be some discussions coming up between the health department and Dr. Steven Krager to determine what actions they want to take.
McDougall continued, “we are talking specifically about Halloween activities, and the education approach will be that people should follow the guidelines from the Washington State Department of Health and the CDC and to [instead] choose safe activities for Halloween.”
According to the CDC guidelines, Halloweeners are being encouraged to partake in low-risk activities such as carving and displaying pumpkins, decorating their home or living space, holding a virtual Halloween costume contest, and having a Halloween movie night with household family members instead.