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Williamstown Developing Guidelines for Healthy Halloween

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Board of Health on Thursday morning endorsed guidelines for Halloween that discourages gatherings beyond family units and calls for homeowners to distribute "grab and go" treats or goodie bags in a contactless way.
Town Manager Jason Hoch presented to the board a draft of the guidelines he plans to bring to the Select Board for its consideration at its Oct. 14 meeting.
Hoch said his thinking about the holiday has evolved and that he initially was inclined to suspend trick-or-treating in town because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"For the longest time, I thought this was a bad idea," Hoch said of trick-or-treating. "Having people go door to door seemed not where we want to be."
But Hoch said he was convinced when other municipalities, led by North Adams, began providing guidelines that he confessed to incorporating into his own proposal. He said the decision to move ahead with some version of the costumed mobile panhandling came after conversations with other municipal officials from around the area.
"Many of us landed at the same spot: It's going to happen anyway," Hoch said. "Providing guidelines is going to be a more responsible option, particularly with the likely tradeoff being more indoor events. Of course, we know that's even higher risk."
So the town will hold trick-or-treating as usual from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 31.
And it will announce by Thursday, Oct. 29, whether public health conditions have changed enough to warrant canceling the event.
The fact that the town continues to have low incidence of the novel coronavirus in isolated cohorts without wider community spread also appeared to factor into Hoch's thinking.
"Williamstown has a high level of compliance with recommendations from the Board of Health and state guidelines," Hoch said. "Because everyone has had that shared success, we want to maintain that opportunity … and a reminder to keep doing what you're doing."
That means, among other things, frequent use of hand-sanitizer and face coverings for all, including for the young ghosts, goblins and wizards.
"Wear a COVID-compliant mask," Hoch said, going through the guidelines. "A Halloween costume mask is not a substitute for a cloth mask."
In a couple of changes from past years' practice, the town is asking trick-or-treaters to remain with immediate family members only rather than clumping together large groups of friends. And it is urging residents to have their children trick-or-treat in their own neighborhood instead of ferrying them to some of the more popular "target-rich" environments like the neighborhoods around the elementary school.
The potential for car rides in search of trick-or-treating opportunities was another factor in the decision to go ahead with the practice this year.
"[Multiple town officials] are of the opinion that if one town shuts down … what you're doing is driving your community cohort into another town," Health Inspector Jeff Kennedy told the board.
Among the recommendations in the draft document Hoch is developing:
Set up candy stations in a manner that makes grab-and-go easy and quick and limits interactions with non-household members.
• Do not use communal candy bowls and baskets.
• Trick-or-treat with members of your household only and participate as a household group. Larger groups are largely discouraged.
• Keep moving. Do not congregate on streets, sidewalks or driveways.
• Wear a COVID-19 compliant face mask; be creative -- decorate your COVID-19 compliant mask in a Halloween theme.
Anyone who is feeling unwell or who has traveled to a high-risk state two weeks prior to Oct. 31 is being told to skip the event. And any residents who feel uncomfortable repeatedly opening their doors to strangers in the middle of a global pandemic are reminded they can leave their porch light off that evening.
At the Board of Health's suggestion Hoch strengthened the language in the guidelines around indoor gatherings.
Originally, he said the town asks residents to refrain from indoor or outdoor gatherings. Based on feedback from the board, he changed that to: "Indoor and outdoor gatherings with those not in your household are discouraged as they are in the higher risk category."
In other business on Thursday, the Board of Health discussed flaws in a statewide "color coding" system for incidences of COVID-19 transmission and how a the current system negatively impacts small towns, endorsed the State Action for Public Health Excellence Act, which enables cities and towns to establish shared services agreements to enable the employment of certified health agents and discussed the resumption of its initiative to post friendly reminders to wear masks and observe social distancing guidelines.
The signage program was dealt a curve when it was determined that the sidewalk decals installed by the town, despite being code compliant, were slippery when wet and needed to be removed.
Win Stuebner told his fellow board members the new plan is to install wraps that can go around trash cans with similar messaging as well as banners on street poles. The wraps will be in place in time for the upcoming Indigenous Peoples Day holiday weekend, Stuebner said; the pole banners will be up this month, and while they will be replaced by holiday signage later in the fall can be reused in January if needed.
On a positive note, Stuebner pointed out that Williams College's COVID-19 numbers continue to be extremely low (just five positive tests out of 19,166 tests conducted since Aug. 17, and one positive test in the last seven days).
"My personal observation is the students have been really conscientious about wearing masks," Stuebner said. "The groups I've seen sitting on the lawns without masks have been socially distanced."
The school previously announced it would relax an off-campus travel ban at the end of September and allow students to travel in Berkshire County. Stuebner, one of the board members who meets regularly with college officials, said Thursday that the travel limits now have been expanded to allow students to go only as far as Route 2 to North Adams and south on Route 8 as far as the city's Walmart.

Tags: COVID-19,   Halloween,   trick-or-treat,   

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