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Halloween not canceled: Douglas County health director offers tips for safe holiday

Published: Oct. 14, 2020 at 1:54 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Mayor Jean Stothert and Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour said Wednesday they have been flooded with questions about how to celebrate Halloween safely — and whether they were planning to cancel the holiday altogether.

During their COVID-19 response update, the mayor and Dr. Pour said Halloween will not be canceled in Douglas County, but did warn against high-risk activities and listed low-risk ones.

“We are going to have a safe and fun Halloween,” said Dr. Pour.

Dr. Pour said she believes trick-or-treating can be done with added precautions. She encouraged small groups, wearing masks, and bringing along hand sanitizer. For those wanting to hand out candy, Pour recommends leaving a bowl outside and separating them into baggies.

“I think you can do trick-or-treating safely," Dr. Pour said. "Do it in small groups; and if you are the one who gives out the candy, I’m already thinking of setting out small bowls or goodies in small bags — and put it in front of your home and kids can pick up. It can be done safely.”

According to Dr. Pour, the following are low-risk activities for the Halloween holiday:

  • Carving pumpkins with your family
  • Decorating your house
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Outdoor movies
  • Small costume parties without alcohol
  • Small parades that socially distance
  • Going to the pumpkin patch in small groups

High-risk activities include:

  • Large costume parties with alcohol
  • Haunted houses with large crowds

Noting that screaming does put more droplets into the air, Dr. Pour said you don’t have to avoid celebrations or haunted houses, but just make sure that those participating in — or hosting — are following best practices for social distancing and sanitizing.

Both Dr. Pour and the mayor also emphasized personal responsibility and said the onus is on the community to make the right decisions, urging residents not to let their guard down when it comes to COVID-19 precautions.

She cited two recent examples of COVID-19 clusters she said should give everyone pause:

  • 10 people in Omaha recently held a two-hour meeting in a conference room without masks; six of them ended up testing positive for COVID-19 shortly thereafter.
  • A group of parents had a big homecoming party to make up for the school not having one. A number of teens attending the event ended up getting COVID-19.

In both instances, Dr. Pour said, the spreader was someone who didn’t have symptoms.

“It’s very hard to legislate behaviors,” Stothert said.

Dr. Pour also encouraged residents to start thinking ahead to the holidays, thinking about how those celebrations might work during a pandemic.

“Some of you may start to think about how are we celebrating the holiday," she said. "Do we really want grandma here? Do we need to quarantine before we go so we don’t infect her at family gatherings?”

Douglas County COVID-19 stats update

Dr. Adi Pour started off Wednesday’s press conference giving recent statistics and COVID-19 numbers.

According to Dr. Pour, 30.6% of Douglas County’s population has been tested for COVID-19, that’s potentially every third person. Last week, 12,283 tests were performed, which is the most tests per week so far. Those results revealed 20- to 29-year-olds and those in their 40s were more commonly impacted.

Douglas County also has reported a 1.1% mortality rate. According to Dr. Pour, that’s 37 deaths per 100,000 cases.

“This is all about personal responsibility, we have put everything in place that we can,” said Pour.

Along with COVID numbers, Pour addressed hospital bed capacity, saying that 85% of beds are occupied and that 206 beds available out of 1,367. There are currently 138 COVID-19 patients in the hospital; 12 of them are using a ventilator, she said.

Watch Wednesday’s news conference

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