One by one, traditional Halloween celebrations in Palm Coast and Bunnell have given way to cancellations in cautious response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the worry that gathering people, especially children, in large groups and in confined spaces would trigger major infectious events. Unquestionably, the recent superspreader events at the Social Club of Palm Coast have also chilled any such plans for large gatherings, as Bunnell officials made clear in explaining their cancellation.
After pondering the question for weeks, Bunnell government decided not to host its annual Halloween fest, when closes the city’s Saw Mill Estates neighborhood to traffic and opens it up to trick or treeters by up to 1,000 people.
“Certainly the issue of kids congregating and adults congregating is a big concern,” Bunnell mayor Catherine Robinson said. “The CDC came out last week and said we should not do trick-or-treating and we should not do any truck-or-treating.” She later underscrored her concern about gatherings of adults in large groups: “You think about what happened at that social club, and have two people die,” she said, referring to the superspreader events at the Social Club of Palm Coast. (The death toll related to the club is now up to three. The club is nevertheless advertising a Halloween costume contest.) “I would just hate two weeks after Halloween for people to come down with this and say, well, they walked the streets of Bunnell and got it.”
The Centers for Disease Control is listing as “higher risk activities” such things as “traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go door to door” and “Having trunk-or-treat where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots” and “Attending crowded costume parties held indoors.” Indoor haunted houses and hayrides are also higher risk. The CDC also lists moderate and low risk activities at Halloween.
“We all know how many people gather here, and we’re used to have well over 1,000 people come through here. That’s a safety factor right there, and that’s why the CDC is not recommending it,” Bunnell City Commissioner Bill Baxley said. He was quick to recommend against the event, as did Commissioner Tonya Gordon and Commissioner John Rogers, when the commission discussed it at its last meeting on Sept. 28. Rogers said the majority of neighbors he knew of are opposed.
“We had 1,000 kids come through with assorted aunts, uncles, moms, dads, grandmas, etc., so there’s no way for any kind of social distancing to occur,” the mayor said. But the mayor was also concerned about hundreds of people showing up anyway, simply because they would not have heard about the city’s decision to cancel the event. Notices were to be sent to the elementary school in town, and signs posted in the neighborhood. (Rogers and Robinson both live in Saw Mill Estates.) “If the community is not participating, there’s nothing to come for,” the mayor said. The city will also be using a message board.
Tina Marie Schultz, a former candidate for the city commission, was a voice in dissent: “Our governor has seen fit to open our state to Phase 3 and he’s opened the theme parks to full capacity, so it’s I think a disservice to the children that come to our community and the parents that come here to cancel an event that you are well known for.” As a parent, she said, she’d be thinking why would her children not go trick or treating if the governor has opened the theme parks? (Schultz’s statement was slightly misleading: the governor has lifted size restrictions on businesses, including theme parks, but Central Florida’s theme parks are maintaining strict attendance restrictions and have cancelled parades and all other spectacles that trigger large gatherings. Despite those restrictions, they have suffered from very poor attendance, leading to layoffs, as people continue to be reluctant to congregate. Gov. Ron DeSantis’s decision was also not based on CDC or his own health department’s recommendations.) Schultz said she was “playing devil’s advocate,” though she said she’s already bought 3,000 pieces of candy. “Even with trying to get the word out you will not hit everybody and you will have people show up.”
“The CDC says social distancing are best practice for stopping the spread or slowing the spread of covid-19,” another resident who identified as Jerry told the commissioners. “I think having 1,000 kids crammed into those little blocks back there would be a bad disservice for us.” He said the reopening of businesses is “irrelevant,” compared to CDC guidelines. He said the citizens of Bunnell and the city commission “does not want to be the next epicenter of Flagler County, like the social club did.”
The mayor called it “a painful thing” to cancel the event this year.
While Palm Coast government will still hold its “all-American picnic” in Town Center’s Central Park, commemorating Veterans Day, it will forego its traditional Halloween Hall of Terror event at Fire Station 25, which is held indoors. The city also revealed on Tuesday that it will not host its annual Starlight Parade in Town Center. “We don’t think it’s a great idea to have the event this year,” Lauren Johnston, the city’s parks and recreation director, said. “This event holds 10 to 15,000 people, and that’s too large of a gathering at this point in time in our community.” The city is working with the Flagler County Rotary to still hold the annual Fantasy of Lights in the park.
In late September, the Florida Agriculture Museum on North Old Kings Road opted not to hold its annual Halloween events, either.
To counter the fall’s drizzle of cancellations, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday hosted its first combined National Night Out with a Halloween Trunk-or-Treat event, all done drive-thru style. But it did not go well. The event was held at Rymfire Elementary and was scheduled to end at 8:30 p.m. But traffic backed up all the way to Belle Terre Parkway on one end and to Royal Palms Parkway and U.S. 1 on the other, with major gridlock and families waiting for hours to get into the Rymfire parking lot.
“Traffic was atrocious,” a sheriff’s spokesperson conceded, with some people waiting 30 minutes, some saying they waited three hours to get in. “A lot of people were frustrated.” The spokesperson estimated that the event drew some 400 cars. But the candy never ran out. (There was some left over.)
The event drew far more people than the agency expected–and the gridlock generated some criticism (and plenty of support as well) on the sheriff’s Facebook page. “Please give a bypass for Locals just trying to get home next time. Loved the turn out but I simply needed to get home after 12 hours of work and the lines were 1/4 mile long on royal palms and Rymfire blocking access for me to just get home,” one respondent said.
“We have been in line for over 3 hours and still not in!” another wrote. “It’s quite ridiculous the traffic directors are letting 10 cars go from 1 direction on royal palms coming from belle Terre and only 2-3cars go at a time from the other side coming from US1 and we were forced to drive that way. Not to mention the line cutters and nobody says anything when this was right in front of those directing traffic! Especially on a school night this is crazy. There is no reason it should be taking this long when it’s a drive through.” But those who stuck it through also noted appreciation: “Was getting inpatient on the line. I was expecting someone to just hand the children a bag of goodies,” a parent wrote. “When I finally arrived at the loop, I was surprised! Didn’t expect sooo much! Great job. Thank u to all that went thru all this for our children!”
“We obviously underestimated the strong desire for a community event and the need to get out of the house for a family-friendly and safe night out,” the sheriff’s office said in a message posted this morning. “Please know that we’ve heard your concerns and we will work to make next year’s event flow even better.”
Halloween at the Beach next time says
Morons…….. nothing but MORONS !!!! Next time keep your damn candy at the Green Roof Inn. OMG this place is a disaster !!!!
How is cancelling Halloween deemed the correct thing to do, but allowing high school sports to play on. Football would seem to be a great example of NON SOCIAL DISTANCING seeing as every single play there is physical contact between multiple players.
Bars and restaurants were given the ok to go full capacity, schools (kids walking shoulder to shoulder), grocery stores slowing customers to not have to wear masks. BUT Halloween is not allowed.
We are giving the “powers that be” way too much power to DICTATE what is good for us.
These kids have already had most of there year taken from them, and now that we are opening up the city for some sort of normalcy, you decide to take another step back and cancel Halloween…
Common sense says
Okay “Schultz,” if the Governor told you to go jump off a cliff, would you do it? 🙄
No next time have it at a place that is much bigger and will not interrupt traffic.
Having it at a school that has one of the smallest parking lots around was dumb IMO.
85 second breather says
Low key F 2020. This year sucks. Christmas, just so y’all know, New Years… yo’ Biurthday.. it all canceled, too. Cancel ur golf, cancel ur car, cancel that concert (there be YouTube for that)… this is 2020 – are you at all surprised? Just stay at your house but go outside if you get a case of the boards. DO NOT cancel your plans to vote in person, but practice breath holding techniques for the day you do.. like lamaze class for voters… Low Key, F all the way 2020.