The coronavirus has put a new scare into Halloween.
As millions of U.S. children pick out their costumes and gear up for the annual candy-fueled fright-fest, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning parents not to let their little Harry Potters and Wonder Women take part in "traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go door-to-door."
"Attending crowded costume parties held indoors" and "going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming" are also on the CDC's list of high-risk activities as millions of children gear up for Halloween on Oct. 31.
Instead, the government agency is encouraging parents to stay home with the kids and carve pumpkins or hold a "virtual Halloween costume contest."
In some places, they may not have an alternative.
For example, there will also be no trick-or-treating this year in Springfield, Massachusetts.
"We are dealing with a pandemic here," said Mayor Domenic Sarno, who called the decision to cancel it a "no-brainer." "Why in the hell would you want to put your child and yourself in harm's way? It makes no sense whatsoever."
Los Angeles tried banning trick-or-treating this year and putting the kibosh on Halloween parties and carnivals and haunted houses, as well. But it changed course after a public outcry, and the new guidance says going door to door is "not recommended" as "it can be very difficult to maintain proper social distancing" and "because sharing food is risky."
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he doesn't intend to ban trick-or-treating, but he plans to give parents some guidance to ponder before they take their kids out.
"If you want to go for a walk with your child through the neighborhood, I'm not going to tell you you can't take your child to the neighborhood. I'm not going to do that," Cuomo said. "I'll give you my advice and guidance, and then you will make a decision what you do that night."
Meanwhile, the Halloween & Costume Association has teamed up with the Harvard Global Health Institute to create a color-coded map that shows the Covid-19 risk by county to help parents decide how to celebrate Halloween.
"Families and policy-makers need clear and consistent information when it comes to COVID-19 risks to inform decision-making, including how to participate safely in the upcoming Halloween holiday and trick-or-treating activities associated with it," Dr. Ingrid Katz of the Harvard Global Health Institute said in a statement. "Through our interactive COVID risk level map, we hope to provide parents a reliable source to help them celebrate the Halloween holiday in the most safe, fun way possible according to the risk level in their community."
The highest-risk counties are mostly in the Southern and Sun Belt states that started lifting stay-at-home orders at the urging of President Donald Trump in May just as Covid-19 was cresting and in North and South Dakota, where the numbers of new cases have surged since August, when 400,000 bikers rumbled into the South Dakota town of Sturgis for a 10-day bash where there was virtually no mask-wearing or social distancing.
Halloween is a big moneymaker in Salem, Massachusetts, which was once in the business of hanging accused witches and now welcomes a half-million visitors every October to partake in other, mostly family-friendly, activities. But it, too, has had to reckon with the pandemic.
"With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic still presenting a significant public health and safety threat this year, many of the official events and activities that constitute Haunted Happenings will be either cancelled or scaled back," the city announced last month.
Then there's the Kohl Children's Museum in suburban Chicago, which appears to have come up with a way of providing kids with a safe way to trick-or-treat. It's setting up 11 tents on its 2-acre property on Oct. 24 and 25 where children can take part in a "not-so-scary" hunt for Halloween ghosts.
The U.S. leads the world with 201,130 coronavirus deaths and nearly 7 million infections, according to the latest NBC News figures. It also accounts for over a fifth of the nearly 1 million deaths reported worldwide and over a fifth of the 31.4 million confirmed cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University Covid-19 dashboard.
While most of the pandemic deaths have been among either the elderly or the infirm, the average age of the Covid-19 victims has been trending downward. Although it remains rare that children ages 18 and under die of the virus (107, according to the latest CDC figures), they pose a danger to adults as potential disease carriers, public health experts have said.
And as children have returned to the classroom and resumed sports and other activities, the rate at which they are getting infected and hospitalized has been going up, the CDC reported.
More than 587,000 children in the U.S. have been infected with the virus since the pandemic started, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association.
Trump was either unaware of — or chose to ignore — this troubling trend Monday when, on a campaign stop in Ohio, he declared that the coronavirus poses little threat to young people and "affects virtually nobody."
"It affects elderly people," Trump said. "Elderly people with heart problems and other problems. If they have other problems, that's what it really affects."
But young people flocking to bars were behind the surge in new cases that hit Ohio this summer after Gov. Mike DeWine began reopening the state. And in recent weeks, hundreds of students at Ohio State University and the other big schools have contracted the virus, forcing authorities to clamp down hard on big parties and Greek activities where the schools' safety regulations have been ignored.
Before, DeWine and his former health director, Dr. Amy Acton, had been able to limit the pandemic damage in Ohio by imposing strict stay-at-home orders that ran counter to what Trump was advising and that sparked a revolt by local Republican lawmakers. DeWine is also a Republican.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, declared a new public health emergency because of a recent surge in Covid-19 cases among young people. The state now ranks third in the country for new cases per capita after North and South Dakota, according to NBC News numbers.
In other coronavirus developments:
At a memorial for the 200,000 lives lost in the U.S., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., expressed a nation's dismay, saying, "It's just incomprehensible the situation we find ourselves in." "This was preventable," she added. "Not all of it, but much of it." Pelosi, who has been harshly critical of the Trump administration's chaotic pandemic response, spoke before a field of 20,000 U.S. flags on the National Mall — one for every 10 lives lost thus far to the virus.
- Three NFL coaches— Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks, Vic Fangio of the Denver Broncos and Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers — were each hit with $100,000 fines for failing to wear masks during Sunday's games. Their teams were also slapped with $250,000 fines. The fines came a week after Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, sent a strongly worded memo all 32 teams reminding them "all individuals with bench area access [including coaches and members of the club medical staff] to wear face coverings at all times." Just recently, Carroll boasted that the Seahawks had not reported a single positive Covid-19 case.
- The University of Notre Dame postponed its coming football game against Wake Forest University after seven more players tested positive for the coronavirus. That brings the total number of Notre Dame football players either in isolation or in quarantine to 13. "We knew COVID would present challenges throughout the season, and we'll always put student-athlete health and safety at the forefront of our decision making," Brian Kelly, head coach of the Fighting Irish, said in a statement. Saturday's game will be rescheduled.
- Across the pond, a major soccer match was called off Tuesday night when the host team reported that several of its players had tested positive for the coronavirus. Tottenham Hotspur was supposed to take on Leyton Orient in East London in the third round of the Carabao Cup, which is a tournament that includes clubs from four levels of English soccer. At least 15 Leyton Orient players and staff members tested positive, ESPN reported.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases staff member who was caught spreading Covid-19 disinformation — and trashing his boss, Dr. Anthony Fauci, on a right wing website — is stepping down. William B. Crews, a public affairs specialist, was unmasked by The Daily Beast as "streiff," who wrote articles that called the pandemic a "massive fraud," directly contradicted NIAID's recommendations for containing the virus, called Fauci a "mask nazi" and worse.