There are few things scarier than an overreaching government. Perhaps to get into the holiday spirit then, Los Angeles has decided to ban trick-or-treating this year.
Late Tuesday, news broke of public health guidelines issued by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LADPH) that ban door-to-door trick-or-treating, Halloween parties where non-members of a household will be present, and haunted houses.
The order, dated from last week, nevertheless allows for online Halloween parties (fun!), drive-in scary movie nights, and Halloween-themed car parades. The county's new guidelines also graciously permit people to still decorate their homes and yards.
"Since some of the traditional ways in which this holiday is celebrated does not allow you to minimize contact with non-household members, it is important to plan early and identify safer alternatives," reads the text of the order.
Health officials told The Los Angeles Times that trick-or-treating, in particular, was not going to be allowed "because it can be very difficult to maintain proper social distancing on porches and at front doors."
Violation of the county's Public Health Officer order, which was last updated on September 4, is punishable by both fines and imprisonment.
It's not clear whether those penalties apply to violations of the new Halloween guidelines, or how the county intends to enforce its prohibition on trick-or-treating. Reason requested clarification from LADPH, and will update with any response we receive.
Halloween stoked panic among public health authorities and the general public long before coronavirus. That includes the regular fears about drug- and razor-laced candies, offensive costumes, and sex offenders out on the prowl.
The LAPHD has historically issued warnings about the high-sugar content of Halloween candies, alongside gentle reminders that participating households can hand out plenty of other fun things besides sweets.
Even in a time of rampant public health restrictions, Los Angeles' crackdown on Halloween seems unnecessarily restrictive. Indeed, it's hard to imagine a pre-pandemic activity more suited to the requirements of social distancing than trick-or-treating.
The activity occurs outside, where we know the risk of coronavirus transmission is much lower. Everyone is already wearing masks. Curbside pickup, whereby a bowl of candy and maybe a note asking trick-or-treaters to take only one piece, is already a common practice.
On top of that, children, the primary trick-or-treating participants, are at the lowest risk of developing serious COVID-19 symptoms, although they can still spread the disease.
Plenty of people who are at higher risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 might not want disease vectors showing up at their doorstep. Fortunately, the accepted Halloween tradition of leaving your porch light off if you don't want to be bothered on that night can help those people too.
Recommending best practices for trick-or-treating seems like a more proportional approach to the transmission risk that Halloween poses. Instead, the county is embracing the most authoritarian possible response to the holiday. Spooky.
Update: On Wednesday afternoon Los Angeles County public health officials reversed course on their trick-or-treat ban, saying instead that the activity was "not recommended."