Halloween is 5-year-old Graylen Price of DeKalb's favorite holiday. He already knows what his costume will be this year: Mickey Mouse.
“This holiday has been his favorite one since he was very little,” Graylen’s mom Taylor Price said. “I want to make that happen for him [in] the safest way possible. He has Down Syndrome and is very set on celebrating. We will go trick-or-treating, and we will give our own candy through goodie bags left on the porch.”
In 2019, Halloween's unusual treat was a shower of unseasonably early snow. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic looms as families look to weigh safety and what they're calling a much-needed return to normalcy.
Price created the Facebook group DeKalb Halloween Trick or Treat 2020, a group that encourages safe trick-or-treating in the community during the pandemic.
“I strongly feel that it is more than acceptable to celebrate this holiday safely,” Price said. “Kids have had such a hard time adapting to this new way of life, and I think a little break with safety precaution is more than OK.”
Due to COVID-19, city officials are having to decide whether to cancel their town’s Halloween trick-or-treating hours or to allow the holiday festivities to be held with added health and safety precautions and social distancing rules in place.
City of DeKalb
The City of DeKalb City Council on Monday did not take an official vote on the matter, though Mayor Jerry Smith recommended daylight hours of 3 to 6 p.m. for trick-or-treating, asking residents who don't wish to participate to put a sign up or turn their outdoor lights off to deter unwanted visitors.
Ward 1 Alderman Carolyn Morris, who participated Monday via Zoom from a 24-day family quarantine after her 12-year-old son tested positive for COVID-19, said the city should remind parents of the risks associated with trick-or-treating.
"We had a family member test positive, and as a result are observing a family 24-day quarantine because that was what the public health department recommended because we were not able to keep that child absolutely isolated from the rest of the family," Morris said. "I do want to caution parents as you're actually considering going out for trick-or-treating, 24 days of quarantine is a very, very long time, it's not very easy to stay isolated from your child. I just want to encourage you to recognize the risks associated with every decision as it relates this pandemic."
Ward 2 Alderman Bill Finucane said a decision made on Halloween Monday could change if the Illinois Department of Public Health puts forth mandates on crowds and indoor activities due to DeKalb County's health region, Region 1, rising above the 8% positive rate Monday.
City Manager Bill Nicklas urged council to consider how public health officials are weighing Halloween festivities, but said enforcement responsibilities will fall on parents.
"Considering the CDC is already considering this a high-risk activity is problematic," he said. "We're not going to have police officers arresting children."
Nicklas was referring to information from The Centers for Disease Control, which lists low, moderate and high-risk Halloween activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Low-risk activities include decorating your living space, carving or decorating pumpkins and having a scavenger hunt-style trick-or-treat search with household members in or around your home rather than going house to house.
Moderate-risk activities include one-way trick-or-treating with individually wrapped goodie bags, having an outdoor, open-air costume parade and attending a costume party held outdoors with protective masks and social distancing.
High-risk activities include participating in traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go door-to-door, trunk-or-treat where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots, attending crowded costume parties or haunted houses held indoors and going on hayrides or tractor rides with people not in your household.
Morris said she received 425 responses to a survey she conducted which she says she's taking "with a serious grain of salt," but 79% of those who responded were in favor of the "high-risk" option to "leave Halloween as it is."
"I think it does come down to personal responsibility," she said.
Sycamore staff have discussed trick-or-treating but have not yet decided on hours or an official position. Sycamore City Manager Brian Gregory said that the City of Sycamore is awaiting guidance from the State of Illinois and health officials and hopes to make a decision and an announcement in the near future.
“We are all hopeful that there will be a way to have trick-or-treating within health official guidance,” Gregory said.
In a Facebook post, the Genoa Police Department stated that “absent any mandates from the health department, trick-or-treating will be left up to those that wish to participate.” Trick-or-treating will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. on Halloween, Saturday, Oct. 31. The police department asks the community to practice social distancing if they participate and to turn porch lights off if not interested in participating.
“It’s not really our decision to make,” Genoa Police Chief Robert Smith said. “It’s up to the health department or higher to cancel trick-or-treating and for parents and home owners to make their own decision.”
Lorna FitzHenry of Sycamore said with Pumpkin Fest, “typically [Sycamore] is the town to really feel the Halloween spirit. Typically – however, as we all know, this is not your typical year.”
“Since COVID has occurred, regular life has stopped,” she said. “None of us have had a normal day since March 13. Which unfortunately, none of us even know when normal will return. Therefore, we must try to obtain some of that normal again.”
To regain a sense of normalcy, FitzHenry has been decorating the inside and outside of her house with Halloween decorations. FitzHenry plans on taking her kids trick-or-treating and asks parents “to be extra vigilant in checking all candies and to please be with children, that way no one goes to houses that are not participating.”
FitzHenry created a Facebook group to discuss the upcoming holiday, Sycamore Halloween. Ideas from the group include decorating purple pumpkins, decorating houses with different colored lights, using candy chutes and wearing face masks and gloves.
“This year I hope [Halloween] will look different by children and adults wearing their mask while out or giving out candy,” DeKalb group creator Price said. “I’ve seen so many great ideas to give the kids their candy: long tunnels taped to railings, goodie bags and Easter-type hunts with candy scattered in the yard.”
FitzHenry said that Halloween this year is “needed even more than ever.”
“We need something the kids can look forward to in the future,” she said. “We need something they see as a normal to return. We have taken everything away from the kids, without much explanation. … We all need our spirits to be lifted, and I can say I have seen it already in those that drive by my house. So I ask this, please if you do not support, we support you in your decision. Please keep lights off on Halloween. However, I encourage all to just look out windows in the next coming weeks and look at how excited the kids get with seeing familiarity again. The joy is undeniable.”
Daily Chronicle Editor Kelsey Rettke contributed to this story.