Emerson Sturz of Eau Claire, dressed as The Man in the Yellow Hat from Curious George, trick-or-treats in downtown Eau Claire in this Oct. 31, 2018, photo. The city of Eau Claire and city of Chippewa Falls are transforming or canceling their traditional downtown trick-or-treating events this Halloween due to COVID-19. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

EAU CLAIRE — On a typical Eau Claire Halloween, 2,000 kids and parents would flood the city’s downtown, dressed as ghosts, witches and superheroes.

This year, the city has canceled its popular downtown Halloween event — where businesses traditionally open their doors for hundreds of trick-or-treaters — due to risks associated with the coronavirus.

But Downtown Eau Claire Inc. is planning a blitz of other Halloween events as a substitute.

“We (typically) hosted a couple thousand people in a short amount of time downtown,” said Dustin Olson, DECI communications and promotions coordinator, of downtown’s traditional Halloween festivities. “It’s shoulder-to-shoulder, very hard to keep people distanced.”

The new event lineup, dubbed the Halloween Hop, will begin with a virtual costume contest, which closes on Nov. 1, and a downtown window display competition, where community members can vote between Oct. 24 and Oct. 31 for their favorite window display at DECI’s website, downtowneauclaire.org/halloweenhop/. The winning business will receive free advertising courtesy of DECI, Olson said.

To enter the costume contest, people can submit photos of their children in their Halloween costumes to downtown@eauclairewi.gov or to DECI’s Facebook page, facebook.com/DowntownEauClaire/, by Nov. 1. Winners will receive gift cards to downtown businesses, Olson said.

On Oct. 31, downtown businesses will offer deals and sidewalk sales between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., and may hand out candy, Olson said.

More information will be posted at DECI’s website closer to the event, including a list of businesses that plan to distribute candy on Halloween, Olson said.

In Chippewa Falls, the city is moving its annual downtown trick-or-treating to the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds, 225 Edward St. In a modified drive-thru, costumed volunteers will hand baggies through the car window for each child, while supplies last, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 30.

County guidance

The Eau Claire City-County Health Department is recommending people give out candy in grab bags or avoid direct contact with other people, don’t trick-or-treat in different cities or towns, and stay away from crowded indoor Halloween parties or haunted houses.

“Our recommendation to anybody planning a family trick-or-treat community event is to follow basic principles,” said Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, at a Sept. 17 news conference. “Keep a 6-foot distance, stay with a small group you know.”

The Health Department’s “biggest concern” is people gathering in large groups, flouting social distancing guidelines or both, Giese said on Sept. 24.

“We ask you to find creative ways to do Halloween slightly differently this year,” Giese said. “Don’t invite big groups of kids into your home if they ring your doorbell, and (don’t) spend a lot of time talking to them. Make sure people aren’t congregating together at big Halloween parties.”

People who have COVID-19, or who’ve been exposed to someone with the virus, shouldn’t give out candy to trick-or-treaters or attend Halloween gatherings, the Health Department said Monday.

In addition to COVID-19 risks, the Health Department also asked people to avoid eating homemade treats made by strangers, have kids walk on the right side of the road and on sidewalks when possible, carry flashlights at night, make sure kids wear reflective clothing and wash hands before eating treats.

Haunted houses likely higher risk

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classified several Halloween activities according to risk:

Low risk:

  • Carving pumpkins, Halloween scavenger hunts and virtual costume contests.

Moderate risk:

  • Grab-and-go trick-or-treating with individually wrapped candy bags handed out at a distance; small-group outdoor costume parades with people six feet apart; outdoors costume parties with people wearing masks and staying six feet apart; and visiting pumpkin patches or orchards where people are sanitizing their hands before touching fruit or produce, masks are encouraged or enforced and people stay six feet apart.

Higher risk:

  • Traditional trick-or-treating (treats handed to kids going door-to-door); trunk-or-treats, where treats are handed out from car trunks in parking lots; crowded costume parties held indoors; hayrides with people not in your household; indoor haunted houses; or traveling to fall festivals outside your community if you live in an area with community spread of COVID-19.

Take extra care with haunted houses, the CDC said: “If screaming will likely occur, greater distancing is advised.”

Unless it has two or more layers of breathable fabric over the mouth and nose, costume masks aren’t a good substitute for cloth masks, the agency noted.

Contact: 715-833-9206, sarah.seifert@ecpc.com, @sarahaseifert on Twitter

Sarah Seifert is the L-T's education and health reporter. She has worked as a journalist in the Chippewa Valley since 2017 and joined the L-T in 2019. Get in touch at sarah.seifert@ecpc.com or on Twitter @sarahaseifert.