As Prince George’s County, Maryland, remains in Phase Two of its coronavirus recovery plan, officials are advising against some traditional October activities, such as door-to-door trick-or-treating, and outright banning others, such as indoor haunted houses.
“Halloween is going to have to look different,” County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said during a news conference Thursday.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, county officials are “strongly recommending” against the traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating, said Dr. George Askew, the chief administrative officer for Health, Human Services and Education in the county.
If you do decide to trick-or-treat, stay with members of your household, stay 6 feet away from others, avoid large gatherings and wear a face mask, he said.
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If you’re planning to dress up, Askew said a costume mask probably won’t offer the same level of protection as cloth face masks, so he recommended using or creating a Halloween-themed face covering instead.
The county is also advising residents to avoid “trunk-or-treat”-style activities, since they typically draw large crowds and end up being very similar to traditional trick-or-treating.
Instead, the county is encouraging one-way, drive-thru trick-or-treat activities where candy can be passed out to families in vehicles with property safety measures.
Other alternatives include outdoor scavenger hunts, walking around your neighborhood to look at Halloween decorations, watching a scary movie at home or a virtual costume contest.
Indoor haunted houses will not be allowed to open this year.
“There’s just too much transmission risk,” Askew said, since haunted houses draw large groups crowded into dark spaces.
“If it’s a good haunted house, you’re going to be screaming at the top of your lungs,” he added. “And frankly, if you’re screaming, with a virus that’s passed on by respiratory droplets, that is a totally inappropriate situation for us to put our children and to put ourselves, and in order to continue to protect our community.”
The recommendation to avoid traditional trick-or-treating this year in Prince George’s County is similar to guidelines put out by neighboring Montgomery County for Halloween alternatives.
‘Super-large’ groups of young people at National Harbor
As classrooms remain closed and other activities curtailed, officials say they’re dealing with restless young people who are making trouble at one of the county’s most popular spots.
“There have been super-large groups of young people” at National Harbor, Alsobrooks said.
On weekends, those crowds of unaccompanied young people have swelled into the hundreds and even thousands, she said.
Alsobrooks said, since the summer, there have been reports of fights, large groups “overtaking businesses,” thefts and a number of hotel parties, hosted by parents for underage children, who are left unattended in hotel rooms.
“These young people have created an environment that is not necessarily conducive to the business that is there … National Harbor is a project that we all enjoy, but it is a business,” Alsobrooks said. “It is not the playground; it is not an amusement park.”
Alsobrooks said she recently received a call from a “distressed” restaurant owner, who said “hundred of kids” were gathering in front of and inside her restaurant, especially on weekends. Many of them were ordering food but refusing to pay, and “assaultive kind of things” were happening when staff tried to get them to pay up.
Alsobrooks said she herself paid a visit to National Harbor on a recent weekend. “And sure enough, they are there by the thousands,” she said.
She added, “They’re behaving like kids, which we expect of kids, which is why kids should be accompanied and supervised at places like this and not left by themselves.”
The county executive called on parents not to drop their kids off at National Harbor where they’ll be left unattended and not to order hotel rooms for them to party in.
Alsobrooks said she wasn’t seeking to blame the kids or their parents, saying she knows how difficult it is to keep kids entertained during the COVID-19 closures.
“This is not about passing blame,” she said. “I’m not blaming the children, who are children, and who are looking for activities to occupy themselves during a very challenging time. I understand also the inclination of a parent who knows that the child wants to see their friends.”
Alsobrooks said the county is working with businesses at National Harbor and is considering changing operating hours.
“We are making adjustments that need to be made to keep the visitors, residents and business owners at the harbor safe,” she said.
Overall, Alsobrooks said she wants to take a community-based approach to dealing with the problem.
The county is now offering more programs through the Department of Parks and Recreation to make sure there are safe activities for them to participate in.
“I understand that for many of our young people and for their parents, this is a difficult time when we have so many restrictions on what is safe for our young people,” Alsobrooks said. “I know they want to see each other, many of them miss their friends, they want to come together, we totally get it. And so we know that for our young people, we need activities.”
Registration for a range of activities is now available through the Department of Parks and Recreation, including baseball, softball, volleyball, lacrosse, two-on-two football and soccer.
Other activities include visual arts, video game design classes, a virtual gaming tournament and fitness classes, among others.
A full list of activities can be found on PGParksDirect.com.
In addition, outdoor basketball hoops at courts maintained by the department are being put back up for drills and practices, Alsobrooks said. However, pickup games and tournaments are still not allowed.
“We’re moving slowly on allowing high-risk sports out of an abundance of caution,” Alsobrooks said. “What we want our young people to do is to be very careful, but we do want them to be able to have those activities.”