Johnson County Department of Public Health promotes healthy and safe Halloween

The Johnson County Department of Public Health and the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department recently released suggested guidelines for community members to follow while they participate in traditional Halloween festivities this year.


Raquele Decker

The checkout line at Ragstock in Downtown Iowa City on October 31, 2019. The line extended towards the back of the store with stragglers still choosing their Halloween costumes.

Claire Benson, News Reporter

The coronavirus isn’t likely to spread via a pack of M&M’s, according to Johnson County Public Health, but residents should avoid big Halloween parties.

With COVID-19 still present in Johnson County and Iowa City, traditional Halloween celebrations and festivities will look different than in previous years.

The Johnson County Public Health Department and the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department released creative ways residents can safely celebrate Halloween this fall. The department recommends keeping six feet apart by tossing candy into trick-or-treat sacks, host a vehicle parade, or leave cups for families to pick up on their way.

Public Information Officer at Johnson County Department of Public Health Susan Vileta said the department worked to brainstorm ideas that would allow community members to enjoy Halloween safely with friends and family.

Vileta said the best way to celebrate Halloween with little to no risk of contracting COVID-19 would be to host and or attend virtual festivities. She said medium-risk events would be small, outdoor gatherings with just a few households, where everyone is wearing a mask and socially distancing, and high-risk events would be larger gatherings with a large number of people where social distancing is more difficult.

Vileta said the department based the guidelines off of popular celebration methods, as well as newer approaches in other communities around the nation.

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“What have we done for Halloween with our own families, what would people be interested in, what have other communities been doing?” she said. “We looked around the nation to get ideas as well.”

Director of Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department Juli Seydell Johnson said that the department based their guidelines off Johnson County Public Health’s recommendations.

Seydell Johnson said she believes many Iowa City residents are looking forward to safely participating in at least one normal tradition this fall, that being Halloween festivities.

“In general, I feel like people want to be out, they want to feel a little bit normal,” Seydell Johnson said. “I think that will be possible with Halloween as long as people are just careful.”

Vileta said she hopes families in Iowa City and Johnson County form creative ideas as to how they can still participate in regular Halloween festivities, while also prioritizing their health and safety.

“We’re hoping that people might create some new traditions for Halloween,” Vileta said. “It’s hard to mess with tradition, we understand that, and I think people will have to decide for their own family [what they participate in].”

Vileta said there are still ways in which families can safely trick-or-treat by wearing a mask, socially distancing, and setting treats out on a table, rather than handing them out at the door.

“It doesn’t have to look crazy different,” Vileta said. “You just don’t know how many people are going to be on that particular sidewalk, or how many kids are going to gather at a certain table or door.”

Iowa City resident and parent Michelle Lord said her two sons, J.J. who is in first grade, and T.J. who is in Kindergarten, have been looking forward to celebrating Halloween, as they have been staying home and social distancing since March when COVID-19 became a prevalent issue.

“We rarely leave the house to go out and do anything, so we take the virus very seriously,” Lord said. “But I do not want my kids to have to miss Halloween as long as we can do it safely and I believe we can. We plan on going trick-or-treating in our neighborhood and close by this year.”

Lord said participating in traditional Halloween festivities will allow her sons to get a taste of normalcy, as they have expressed to her that they miss attending school and spending time with their friends.

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Lord said her family particularly enjoys celebrating Halloween and is looking forward to it, as her son JJ’s seventh birthday is on Oct. 30.

“I do believe we could still have a safe Halloween trick or treating night and the kids can still get candy safely and have fun,” Lord said. “[It will allow us to] do something normal in this chaotic and scary time we are in.”

Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department’s Recreation Superintendent Brad Barker said that the department is hosting an outdoor, drive-in movie event on Friday, Oct. 30. The event will consist of two movie screenings, Hotel Transylvania and Goosebumps, each screening having a capacity of 75 spots.

Barker said this event differs from ones the department has hosted in previous years, where they have attracted many community members and had a wide range of activities.

“Typically, we would be hosting an event either at the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center or Mercer Park Aquatic Center,” Barker said. “Last year, we held that at Mercer Park Aquatic Center where there was a lot of hands-on activities, a haunted house, games, and all kinds of fun stuff there, but people were very close in that environment, and we just felt like that was not going to be a good thing for us to do this year.”

Barker said although the department was limited with the type of community events they could host this fall, they still wanted to host an event to bring residents together during a difficult time, while also prioritizing the public’s health and safety.

“We wanted to find something that still encompassed the feeling of having things to do within the community for Halloween, but still allow people to be able to feel safe doing so and distance themselves from others,” Barker said.