ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, MD — Masks used to be reserved for Halloween. Now, they are part of daily wardrobes.
With coronavirus lingering in Anne Arundel County, health officials discourage traditional trick-or-treating. Anybody who believes they have coronavirus or thinks they were exposed to the disease should stay home, the county Department of Health says.
"Unlike Dracula and The Mummy, COVID-19 is real," Anne Arundel County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman said in a Tuesday press release. "To protect trick-or-treaters and avoid the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses, we must continue to maintain physical distance, wear face coverings, avoid large gatherings and wash hands often."
Those who choose to go trick-or-treating can reduce, but not eliminate, their risk by traveling only with members of their household, the Department of Health says.
No laws prohibit trick-or-treating in Maryland, but the state requires mask usage in all public places. This includes busy streets on Halloween.
County health officials remind residents that costume masks are not as protective as face coverings. Costumes have breathing holes, which could expose trick-or-treaters to coronavirus.
The Department of Health also warns residents that wearing cloth face coverings underneath costume masks could dangerously limit breathing. Trick-or-treaters shouldn't share masks, fangs, or similar objects, the department noted.
"I know it will be difficult for children and families to celebrate in a way we aren't used to, but the health of our communities depends on us doing our part to prevent the spread," Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman tweeted on Tuesday.
The Department of Health offered additional tips to avoid spreading coronavirus while trick-or-treating.
Halloween Health Tips
Bring alcohol-based hand sanitizer when trick or treating.
Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth, as germs can spread that way.
Children should not reach into candy bowls or bags. Candy should be given out using a scoop or tongs, so the candy is not directly handled.
Consider providing individually wrapped goodie bags on a table at the edge of the driveway or yard. When preparing and handing out treats, be sure to follow proper hand hygiene.
Avoid parties and party games like bobbing for apples or other activities that might involve sharing items that have come into contact with other people’s mouths or noses.
When returning home with treats, children should wash hands properly with soap and water before eating anything.
Health officials also ranked Halloween festivities by risk, asking residents to avoid the high-risk activities. The department urges celebrators to look into lower-risk options where mask usage is enforced. It also recommends staying at least 6-feet apart at events where screaming may occur.
Here are the Department of Health's rankings:
Festivals and street parties
Large sponsored trunk-or-treats
Note: Trunk-or-treats are events in parking lots where kids collect candy from parked cars. Trunk-or-treating replicates the door-to-door interactions of traditional trick-or-treating, which also takes place outside. That may make trunk-or-treating comparably risky to trick-or-treating.
Halloween movie night outdoors with local family and friends
Outdoor, open-air costume parade or party in small groups
Open-air, one-way haunted forest
Visit a pumpkin patch or orchard where hand sanitizer use is required before touching pumpkins or apples
Pumpkin carving or decorating with members of your household, or outdoors with neighbors and friends
Decorate the inside and outside of your home
Indoor scavenger hunt for household members or outdoors for children walking from house to house admiring decorations
Virtual Halloween costume contest
Halloween movie night with household members
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers additional advice on its website. Anne Arundel County's guidelines align with these federal recommendations.
Coronavirus Statistics Update
The most recent data clock Anne Arundel County's positivity rate at 2.97 percent, which is 0.38 percent higher than the statewide clip. The percent positivity has steadily declined since it hit a recent spike of 4.45 percent on Sept. 7. That peak was nearly double the county's pandemic-low of 2.29 percent, which it registered on Aug. 16.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says municipalities should aim to keep their positivity rate below 5 percent. When counties hit this mark, Maryland health leaders say it is likely safe to return to schools for hybrid instruction.
Though Anne Arundel meets the positivity rate recommendation, school officials still started the fall semester with online classes. Anne Arundel County Public Schools previously committed to distance learning for the first two marking periods.
The state has challenged AACPS's decision over the past month. Hogan recently urged schools to start considering a hybrid model. AACPS responded by reaffirming its immediate commitment to remote learning while also speeding up its plans for eventual hybrid classes.
As of now, school is online until at least the start of the third marking period, which begins on Feb. 2, 2021. Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman hopes to implement a hybrid strategy before then, however.
"My goal first and foremost in all of this is to save lives," Pittman said at the town hall on Sept. 15. "We’re still at-risk and we still have people that are likely to die from this. We want to save as many lives as we can."
Anne Arundel County has been under the 5 percent benchmark since June 22. The local positivity rate topped out at 28.24 percent on April 16.
While the jurisdiction meets the percent positive guideline, it does not meet the state's new infections-per-capita marker. State health officials say municipalities should aim for less than five new coronavirus cases-per-day per 100,000 people. When an area hits this case rate goal, the state says it is probably safe to reopen the district's schools for expanded in-person learning.
Anne Arundel County's case rate has aligned with Maryland's trends until the last week. It hit an initial peak of 13.84 on June 3 before receding to its minimum of 3.53 by June 26.
A second surge spiked Anne Arundel's case rate to its overall peak of 14.26 on Aug. 2. Infections quelled by Aug. 20, dropping the case rate to 6.93.
After a brief downturn, a third wave accelerated the county's infections once more. The case rate hiked to 12.78 by Sept. 18. By Monday, the case rate fell to 8.63, which is still greater than the requirement to return to expanded in-person instruction.
The county must average less than 28.96 new coronavirus infections-per-day over a rolling week to meet the state's per-capita suggestion. Anne Arundel County has averaged 51.43 new cases-per-day during the last seven days.
Anne Arundel County has the fifth most coronavirus infections in the state, with 10,073. The virus has killed 236 county residents.
Coronavirus-related hospitalizations have seen a downswing recently. The virus had 21 Anne Arundel County residents in the hospital on Sunday. That was the fewest since April 3 when 21 locals were hospitalized. Monday saw 24 hospitalizations.
Fewer than 50 coronavirus patients have been in the hospital at a time since June 14. The county's recent high of 49 hospitalizations came on July 24. More than 170 people were hospitalized in Anne Arundel County on the pandemic's April 21 peak.
"We’re all a little bit weary of this pandemic," Pittman said. "We all just wish it would go away."
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