It won’t be your usual Halloween anymore than it’s been your usual anything this year. But it’s not a lost cause, either. The coronavirus is altering traditions in Palm Coast as elsewhere. It’s not ending them, and at least in one case it’s giving rise to a new one, with trunk-or-treat events getting a more drive-thru make-over and door-to-door candy canvassing taking on a more arms-length, more surreal look.
We can’t stop everything. We cant eliminate everything,” says Palm Coast Fire Chief Jerry Forte. “We’re making certain adjustments for Christmas. We’re going to make adjustments for Halloween. Certainly the kids deserve the opportunity to enjoy this holiday.” He said contact sports have resumed, so “if we can do those contact sports we certainly can possibly do Halloween. It might be different than it’s been in the past.”
Neither the local or state health departments have issued Halloween guidelines nor has the Centers for Disease Control, though two weeks ago 30 members of Congress wrote CDC Director Robert Redfield asking for such guidelines. That’s leaving it in the hands of local authorities to decide how to manage Halloween.
On the ghostly side, fewer trick or treaters are expected to roam the streets. Fewer porch lights are expected to glow on Hallow’s Eve, especially those that belong to older people who’ve been advised to minimize contact with others.
For the first time in 18 years, the Palm Coast Fire Department will not host its Hall of Terror, which was drawing some 2,500 people over two days. “That many people in a very confined space is probably not going to be be very conducive” to health, Forte said. The jury is out on the Florida Agricultural Museum’s annual Holler-ween festival, which usually stretches over two weekends in October, with a haunted house, a pumpkin patch and trail rides, some of which by nature huddle people closer together than would be advisable in covid’s climate.
Bunnell has the money set aside to hold its annual and very large trick-or-treat event at Sawmill Estates, where the city closes the subdivision to traffic, sets up concessions and encourages all homes in the neighborhood to participate (most do). But the city hasn’t decided whether to do so this year. “We are still waiting to see in October what’s going on with Covid and whether or not we will be able to have it,” Bunnell City Manager Alvin Jackson said. “We are funding to be able to have all the support that’s needed, law enforcement, public works, barricades, port-a-potties. It’s in this year’s proposed budget, but we’re playing it totally by ear. We’ve been getting calls too, and I keep telling people we don’t know yet.”
But the city has no intention of shutting down Halloween events organized around town as long as the events’ plans get clearance from the city, Forte and City Parks Director Lauren Johnston say. The idea is to balance tradition and safety. Johnston herself is hoping the city will host some kind of “caroween” drive-through event. “We’re trying to find a new way to honor the traditions but give them a different spin,” Johnston said.
Johnston, Forte and the rest of the city’s team that evaluates special events are meeting on Sept. 23 to review the guidance on managing Halloween-related events others intend to hold around town. “We’re taking it on a case by case basis,” Johnston said. “If the event can socially distance and if they do have a great safety plan, then our emergency manager and safety chief review those plans,” and either approve or not, as they would even in normal years.
Parkview Church, which hosts the city’s single-largest trunk-or-treat event, drawing up to 3,000 people, won’t hold it as a trunk-or-treat event, but will be hosting a drive-thru event.
“We were concerned about doing nothing, because we feel families obviously really enjoy the event,” Parkview’s Greg Peters said this afternoon, not long after he’d met with church staff to discuss the matter. “Our event is going to be be modified because of the virus. We’ve not finalized the details, we’re looking at doing some sort of a drive through event on Friday night, October the 30th. We’re in the planning stages of that still, but it will be drive-through, it will be open to the community.” The church has developed a smooth traffic flow for its food distributions, and would put the same method in place for the Halloween event.
“If we can encourage and bless the families in our community, that’s really our priority,” Peters said. He was encouraged b y a new development: the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, which has never held a trick-or-treating event before–though it’s always been a wish of the sheriff’s–will do so for the first time this year, likely in early October at Rymfire Elementary.
The Sheriff’s Office’s Shannon Martin said several of the agency’s events have been cancelled or postponed this year, including National Night Out, which was held in early August last year. With Halloween approaching and the sheriff’s long-term goal of having a trunk-and-treat event, Martin’s brainstorming with Brittany Kershaw, her colleague, led to the tentative combination of National Night Out and a Halloween event at Rymfire’s bus loop, tentatively set for the evening of Oct. 6.
The agency would line up the fleets and equipment usually on view at National Night Out (intended to have children and families interact with law enforcement and check out some of the equipment up close). But it would would all be drive-through. Visitors “have got to stay in the car. Everyone at our event will be wearing masks,” Martin said–and getting candy. “we’re just trying to find a way for kids in Flagler County to interact with deputies at this point, but it’s still in the works, we’re trying to get it put together. It’s on short notice.”
Forte, the fire chief, said the city is speaking with organizers of these special events to take special care on the handling and distribution of candy, asking those handing out candy at home, at the door, to pre-package what’s to be handed out so children won’t be putting hands in bowls again and again. And at drive-through events, organizers are encouraged to pre-package goodies in small, individually-wrapped plastic bags.
For those at home, Forte says residents who want to participate are still encouraged to keep their porch light on, but to wear masks when they answer the door–or if they’re sitting in the fresh air outside–and to keep at arms’ length from trick or treaters.
The CDC’s “Seven Ways to Be Safe and Healthy This Halloween” are the same seven ways it’s advised in pre-covid years, including tip 5, which seems especially dated right now: “Scare Away the Flu and Colds: Don’t get spooked by the flu. Wash your hands frequently and get a flu vaccine, too!”