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Detroit lays out guidelines for Halloween activities amid pandemic

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The state's largest city is urging caution for families planning to participate in Halloween festivities this year as Michigan braces for another surge of COVID-19. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan joined with the city's health director, the Department of Neighborhoods and police to lay out safety recommendations and "safe alternatives" for families and business owners on Oct. 31. 

"We're starting to see what looks like the early phases of a second wave of the virus across this country and certainly across the Midwest," Duggan said during a news conference at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters.

Although Detroit's infection rate is low — half that of the suburbs and of the state — "we're climbing," the mayor said. A couple of weeks ago, 30 people with the virus were in Detroit hospitals; a week ago it was about 40 people, and, now, it's closer to 50, he said. Back in April, 1,000 people were hospitalized, he said. 

"We're not in a crisis, but the cycle of the seasonal flu picks up in October and usually peaks in January or February," Duggan noted. "The fact that we're seeing a rise of COVID in October, we don't know for sure whether it's going to track the course of the flu. But there are enough similarities that it's a definite possibility."

Detroit's Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair said her department has developed guidelines ranking activities by risk level and rules for families, homeowners passing candy and businesses.

The holiday, she said, is considered "high risk" for spreading COVID-19.

"We are still in the middle of a pandemic, so safety is the best treat for this Halloween," she said. "I do want residents to celebrate but in a safe manner."

Low- and moderate-risk activities include outdoor pumpkin carving, scavenger hunts or grab-and-go goody bags lined on porches. 

Fair said traditional trick-or-treating, trunk-or-treating, costume parties and haunted houses are a higher risk on the scale. For those who intend to go out, Fair said groups should travel together as a family, stay six feet from others and everyone should wear a mask.

The Department of Neighborhoods for the first time will offer drive-up candy stations and Detroit police precincts will host all activities outdoors. 

Candy gathered on Halloween night also should be set aside for 24 hours before children eat it, she said. 

The city detailed its Halloween plans a day after the state's top health official warned Michigan could be headed for a second wave of the virus. 

Michigan added 1,237 new coronavirus cases and 30 more deaths on Tuesday — putting October on pace to generate Michigan's biggest month for new cases since April, when the virus peaked in the state. 

The daily average for new cases has increased each month since June. 

"It is very possible that this is the beginning of a second wave," Michigan Chief Medical Executive Joneigh Khaldun told a Tuesday meeting of state and public health officials.

In an interview last week with The Detroit News, Khaldun said she is "very concerned" about the upward trend of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the state.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued guidance to cities on Sept. 24. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers trick-or-treating “a high-risk activity.” But for families that still plan to trick-or-treat, the CDC recommends avoiding congregating in groups, doing it in only one direction or only visiting houses that practice safety measures.

“MDHHS is not recommending that families participate in trick-or-treating this year, but has provided guidance on best practices if families choose to celebrate the holiday,” Lynn Sutfin, a department spokeswoman, said in an email.

The city of Detroit was hit hard by the virus early on.

It also opened a regional COVID-19 testing site at the former Michigan State Fairgrounds. Officials conducted more than 55,000 tests there in a six-month span. Testing was relocated indoors in late September to the Joseph Walker Williams Community Center on Rosa Parks Boulevard. 

Since March, the city recorded 14,791 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1546 deaths, based on the most recent figures released Tuesday. 

Fair said at 1.8%, the city's infection rate is really low and she wants to keep it that way by ensuring residents adhere to safety precautions, including for Halloween.

"We want to make sure that we don't turn Halloween into a spreader event in this city," Duggan added. 

Other Halloween-related rules and events can be found on the city's website.

City officials, during Wednesday's news briefing, also encouraged residents to complete a 2020 Citizens Budget Priorities Survey by calling (313) 774-5600 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesday or on the city's website by Nov. 4.

Detroit has grappled with a $410 million shortfall in the last and current fiscal year due to the pandemic.

"The 2021 budget is going to be the toughest one we've faced because of COVID," Duggan said. "With those tight constraints the question is what choices do we make."

The survey, spearheaded by Council President Brenda Jones and member Janee Ayers, gives residents an opportunity to rank the priorities they believe matter most.

"All of us live in the city of Detroit so we all should have a say in what we think the priorities should be," Ayers said. "This is your opportunity to be heard."

Staff Writer Maureen Feighan contributed