CHICAGO (CBS) — While haunted houses are not allowed in Illinois this Halloween due to the pandemic, public health officials said trick-or-treating, pumpkin patches, hayrides, and other holiday festivities can go forward with some changes to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Illinois Department of Public Health has issued its recommended guidance for Halloween, including maintaining social distancing while trick-or-treating by leaving individually-wrapped candy out on a table on your driveway, or in front of your walkway, sidewalk, or other area outside your home where six feet of distance can be maintained.
“For Halloween, we are encouraging people to find ways to celebrate that might look a little different than in years past, but we still allow our children to take part in these festivities,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said.
Ezike said anyone wearing a costume should still wear a cloth mask, as a costume mask is not an acceptable substitute. If you or your child wears a cloth mask under a costume mask, Ezike said you should make sure it won’t impair breathing. If it does, you or your child should wear a cloth mask alone, and set aside the costume mask.
Trick-or-treaters also should stay in groups that include only members of their own household, and stay six feet away from other groups.
Ezike said people also should avoid crowded costume parties at bars, and shouldn’t hold large parties at their own homes.
Rather than haunted houses, people should consider visiting open-air, one-way haunted forests, or going on ghost tours where they can stay six feet away from others.
As for festivities like pumpkin patches, hayrides, and orchards, IDPH said people should wear face coverings at all times, observe social distancing, and use hand sanitizer before handling pumpkins, apples, or other produce. Hayride capacity should not exceed 50%, and each party should be spaced at lest six feet apart.
“These are unprecedented times, difficult times, but I encourage people to accept the situation, but try to be creative this holiday season. Challenge yourself and your kids on how you can celebrate these holidays as safely as possible. Keep washing your hands, keep watching your distance, and keep wearing your mask,” Ezike said.
The announcement of IDPH’s guidance for Halloween comes as the state also reported 2,273 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, as well as 35 additional deaths.
The new cases announced on Wednesday account for 3.9% of the 58,546 new tests reported over the past 24 hours. The statewide seven-day average positivity rate stands at 3.6%, down from 4.2% one month ago. The average positivity rate, the primary metric used to calculate the spread of the novel coronavirus, was as high as 18% during the peak of the pandemic in mid-May.
Gov. JB Pritzker said nine of the state’s 11 regions have seen positivity rates decline over the past two weeks.
“That is really good news,” he said.
However, Region 1 in northwest Illinois, — which includes Boone, Carroll, DeKalb, Jo Daviess, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside, and Winnebago counties — had seen its coronavirus infection rate climb since mid-September, and has surpassed an average positivity rate of 8% for three days in a row, prompting tougher mitigation efforts beginning Saturday.
The new restrictions that will begin on Saturday in Region 1 include:
- No indoor service at bars and restaurants
- Outdoor service at restaurants and bars must close by 11 p.m., and may not open before 6 a.m.
- All bar patrons must be seated at tables outside, and cannot go to the bar to place orders
- Tables at bars and restaurants must be spaced at least 6 feet apart
- No standing or congregating indoors or outdoors while waiting for a table
- Reservations required for each party at a bar or restaurant
- A limit of the lesser of 25 people or 25% capacity at other meetings, social events, and gatherings
- No party buses
- Casinos and video gaming operators must close at 11 p.m., and are limited to 25% capacity
- Casinos and video gaming operations also must follow the same mitigations for bars and restaurants, if applicable
The same restrictions were imposed in Region 7 (Will and Kankakee counties) in late August, but were lifted last week. Region 4 (the Metro East area) has been under stricter COVID mitigations since early September.
The tougher mitigation rules for Region 1 and Region 4 can be lifted if they get their seven-day average positivity rate below 6.5% for three days in a row.
Meantime, Region 6, the central Illinois region that includes Champaign, Clark, Clay, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, De Witt, Douglas, Edgar, Effingham, Fayette, Ford, Iroquois, Jasper, Lawrence, Macon, Moultrie, Piatt, Richland, Shelby and Vermillion counties, could soon face stricter COVID rules as well.
Ezike said the saliva-based testing program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign often accounts for nearly 20% of all tests conducted statewide, leading to a deceptively low infection rate for Region 6. With Champaign County included in its testing, the seven-day average positivity rate in Region 6 is 2%, but without Champaign County, that rate stands at 7.2%.
“We want to ensure that the large volume of tests at Urbana-Champaign does not overshadow the trend that we’re seeing in the broader region and don’t want to be inhibited from taking action to keep people safe,” Ezike said.
IDPH will leave out Champaign County’s test rates when calculating whether Region 6 must go into stricter mitigation efforts, but if they are imposed, the limits will apply to Champaign County.
Pritzker held his latest coronavirus briefing on Wednesday from his home in Chicago, after he and his staff went into self-isolation for 14 days, because a member of his staff tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday.
The governor’s office said the staffer tested negative for the coronavirus last Wednesday during weekly testing, but began feeling sick, and was tested again Monday, and confirmed as positive for the virus.
That staffer attended events with Pritzker in Chicago, Marion, and Marseilles over the past week. The governor’s office said both Pritzker and the staffer were wearing masks during all their interactions with each other.
Pritzker and any others in his office who had close contact with the staffer are self-isolating for 14 days, and all staff who work from the office must be tested and test negative before returning to the office.
Since the start of the pandemic, IDPH has reported a total of 293,274 coronavirus cases, including 8,672 deaths.
As of Tuesday night, 1,632 coronavirus patients were being treated at Illinois hospitals, including 378 people in intensive care, and 152 on ventilators.
So far, the vast majority of COVID-19 patients have recovered from the disease, with a 96% statewide recovery rate as of Wednesday. The state’s recovery rate calculates the number of people who have tested positive for the virus, and have survived at least 42 days after their test.