Masked up: County, campus celebrate a COVID-19 Halloween

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Brigida Dockus

Children attending a drive-thru trick-or-treating event at the Champaign County Fairgrounds receive candy on Saturday. Many Champaign-Urbana residents celebrated Halloween with COVID-19 precautions this year.

By Matt Troher, Assistant Longform Editor

Houses in residential Urbana are decorated with papier-mâché skeletons, make-shift spiderwebs and ghosts dangling from trees. The steps to nearly every house are lined with pumpkins, a few already decaying from being put out too early. One house has a table in front of it with candy spread out, a healthy amount of space between each piece.

Some trick-or-treaters wear two masks, one for their costume and the other to protect against COVID-19. There are six feet between each trick-or-treater, cautiously adhering to social-distancing guidelines that have been commonplace since March.

Halloween is typically celebrated to its fullest extent by all ages. Children spend their days trick-or-treating, which college students plan parties around the holiday. However, with the holiday taking place during an uptick in COVID-19 cases, community members had to adapt to celebrate the holiday as safely as possible.

Public health and University officials worked to ensure Halloween was celebrated as safely as possible in light of a recent increase in positive COVID-19 cases. With 7,899 new cases confirmed on Saturday, Illinois reached a new peak in single-day new cases since the beginning of the pandemic. On Oct. 26, the University saw 74 new positive cases, the highest number of single-day cases since Sept. 8. 

The Champaign Urbana Public Health District instituted a number of guidelines directed at helping community members stay safe while still having fun amidst this uptick in cases. These guidelines, released on Oct. 2, included social distancing while trick-or-treating, wearing a CDC approved mask with any costume and for houses distributing candy to leave their candy individually wrapped and spaced apart on a table in front of their house.

Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen worked with the CUPHD to create these guidelines and played an active role in spreading the word out to the community. In assessing the campus community along with the Champaign-Urbana community at large, Feinen hopes that student’s activities won’t cause a major increase in cases so close to the end of the semester.

“Our students are so close to basically the end of their semester, at least on campus, before they head home for Thanksgiving, and we’ve done such a tremendous job and all of the testing at (the University) has kept an incredibly low positivity rate,” Feinen said. “(The students have) managed to stay throughout the whole semester that was planned, which was the goal. We don’t want large spikes relating to Halloween, that would be really unfortunate, and it puts lives in jeopardy.”

In addition to guidelines set by the CUPHD, the University sent a Massmail on Tuesday, Oct. 27 encouraging students to make responsible decisions and celebrate the holiday as safely as possible. 

“I’m writing to remind you to continue to make choices that maximize the safety of our entire community this Halloween weekend,” said vice chancellor for Student Affairs Dr. Danita M. B. Young said in the Massmail. “I encourage you to only participate and celebrate in ways that are safe and in compliance with university and CUPHD guidance.”

Some students opted to celebrate Halloween in a more laid-back fashion. Whether their decision to take the holiday easily was due to concerns over the pandemic or personal preference, many students spent the day indoors with their roommate or a few close friends. Cole Diaz, junior in ACES, decided to relax on Halloween instead of going out and partying.

“I’m just going to do some simple things to have an enjoyable night,” Diaz said. “My girlfriend is actually back at home right now, so I’m left alone on campus. I’m really just watching some Netflix, I’m going to cook some good dinner or order out, maybe play some guitar, just take the night easily.”

Although some students approached the day with a sense of caution, the possibility of large social gatherings still remained. Diaz expressed a sense of concern over a potential spike in cases after the holiday.

“I’m not sure how many people are going to ignore the different warnings and guidelines,” Diaz said. “I think there probably will be an increase because people will want to have little get-togethers, and that always increases the chance of getting (COVID).”

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