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As Halloween approaches, South Jersey officials, residents and experts sound off on trick-or-treating amid COVID-19 pandemic
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As Halloween approaches, South Jersey officials, residents and experts sound off on trick-or-treating amid COVID-19 pandemic

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“First, I shoved the Easter Bunny in a closet, and now I’ve had to cancel Halloween,” Pleasantville police Chief Sean Riggin said. “I didn’t believe at the beginning of this thing — I never ballparked this for Halloween, ever.”

Halloween activities, specifically trick-or-treating, have become a point of contention in South Jersey during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 14,000 New Jerseyans. In Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties alone, about 500 deaths have been attributed to the novel coronavirus.

Unlike some municipalities in the central and northern parts of the state, none in South Jersey so far has outright banned the practice.

While the majority of municipalities have earmarked specific times for trick-or-treating, officials from at least two, Pleasantville and Northfield, have decided not to host or sponsor the annual tradition, putting the onus solely on parents and homeowners to decide whether to participate.

However, experts say the risk for children out collecting candy this year is relatively low, as long as they take precautions.

What Halloween activities do you feel are safe during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance Monday for the fall and winter holiday season amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, cautioning residents to abide by state and local health and safety laws. Trick-or-treating, trunk-or-treating, crowded costume parties and indoor haunted houses are all higher risk activities that should be avoided, they said. What Halloween activities will you be participating in this season?

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late last month issued guidance about the holiday, calling trick-or-treating, trunk-or-treating, crowded costume parties and indoor haunted houses all higher-risk activities to be avoided. Just over a week later, Gov. Phil Murphy said “Halloween is on,” urging participants to wear masks or face coverings while they’re giving out or collecting treats, noting that costume masks don’t count.

“I think, for the most part, trick-or-treating is safe as long as the parents educate the children on how to keep it safe,” Anthony Campeggio said. “I feel that it is our job as parents to make sure that our children are following the CDC guidelines.”

Campeggio, of Northfield, said his 10-year-old son plans to dress up and go out in their neighborhood to collect candy from a few neighbors, even though city officials have decided not to endorse the holiday.

Northfield Police Chief Paul Newman said it was a tough call, but he wanted to keep his residents safe, adding he worried about the city becoming a hub for a mass gathering of trick-or-treaters if other municipalities also discouraged the event.

In many towns, the responsibility falls on police chiefs to set trick-or-treating hours.

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“In good conscience, I didn’t feel like it was a good idea to sign off on that as the chief of police,” Newman said. “It wasn’t something I wanted to do. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly. We’ll have our day again, and it is what it is.”

Katherine Soss Prihoda, a pediatric nurse practitioner and associate clinical professor at Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden, said there is little risk to kids hopping quickly from house to house to collect candy as long as they take the proper precautions.

“Most kids that are trick-or-treating are at someone’s door for less than five minutes,” she said. “I don’t know of any kids that can stand still for 15 minutes when trick-or-treating; the goal is to quickly go house to house. Kids would like short visit times even better so they don’t have to answer all those questions their neighbors ask them about their costume, school, etc.”

And, after almost seven months with disruptions in school, sports and interactions with friends, Halloween might be the time “to safely get back into some sense of normal” for kids, she said.

Outdoor activities should be encouraged, she said, adding that when they aren’t allowed, people are driven to unsafe indoor gatherings.

“Northfield is known for having full-size candy bars, so I understand there’s concern,” Riggin said, joking, before explaining that the holiday is a good opportunity for law enforcement to interact with the community. “It’s really unfortunate. I wish we could find someone to engage with our kids and their parents, but it doesn’t look like Halloween is going to be that opportunity.”

But Riggin is still holding out hope for winter activities in the community, saying he’s “optimistic” for the city’s Winter Wonderland event, an annual party that brings hundreds of residents across age groups together for food, festive music and entertainment.

“But I don’t know,” he said. “At a time when we really need to be engaging with our community as much as we can as all the other terrible things are going on in the world, we need to spend time together between our community and cops, but we can’t safely do that.”

Campeggio got creative with his candy delivery system this year — he built a candy chute, a device that encourages social distancing amid the pandemic.

A pipe, painted black and red, runs from his porch and ends in the driveway, the tube even with the opening of a skull’s mouth. It’s a contactless candy delivery system.

“The chute will help maintain the 6 feet separations and ease some of the parents’ worries,” Campeggio said. “It is important with everything going on to give our children some sense of normalcy.”

Contact: 609-272-7241

mbilinski@pressofac.com

Twitter @ACPressMollyB

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Staff Writer

My beat is public safety, following police and crime. I started in January 2018 here at the Press covering Egg Harbor and Galloway townships. Before that, I worked at the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., covering crime and writing obituaries.

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