Is Beggars' Night 2020 happening amid COVID-19? Some metro Des Moines cities are taking a wait-and-see approach
Des Moines' 'Beggars' Night', the night before Halloween, is when children ring doorbells, say "Trick or Treat", then tell a riddle or joke for candy. Des Moines Register
In a usual year, cities around central Iowa are preparing for Beggars' Night as soon as October approaches. But 2020 is not a usual year.
A majority of cities around the Des Moines metro are waiting to announce their plans for Halloween celebrations until mid-October, in hopes of getting up-to-date information on the spread of COVID-19 and the relative safety of going trick-or-treating for local families.
Beggars' Night plans on hold
Whether it's safe to go trick-or-treating at all during the COVID-19 pandemic is in question, especially in towns and counties which have high rates of the novel coronavirus, which spreads through respiratory droplets. Health officials have called for people to limit their interactions and proximity with people outside their own household whenever possible — practices at odds with the usual Beggars' Night tradition of knocking on your neighbors' doors and telling them a joke in exchange for candy.
Some cities have announced they will move ahead with Beggars' Night, but have recommendations for limiting the potential spread of disease. On the city of Altoona's website, a notice said masks are "strongly suggested," along with using disposable bags for candy collection. But if these measures are not enough to make a resident feel comfortable, the city release said they should stay home.
"This is a choice if you would like to participate in Beggar’s Night," the notice on Altoona's website says. "If you have a concern in regards to COVID-19, then do not participate."
Johnston also encouraged trick-or-treaters, who can plan to go out Oct. 30 from 6 to 8 p.m., to be "creative" in how to stay safe while enjoying the holiday. The city's website recommended households leave individual grab bags or paper cups filled with goodies on a table or at their door where they can stay a safe distance away — and to watch and wave as visiting kids tell you their jokes from at least six feet away.
Beggars' Night celebrations in Altoona and Johnston may still change in coming weeks if further mandates are enacted to restrict the spread of COVID-19, city government websites said.
Those potential mandates are having many cities, including Des Moines, holding off on any official announcements about the holiday for the time being. Mandates or more specific recommendations surrounding trick-or-treating will be released mid-October by the Polk County Health Department, in conjunction with the Iowa Department of Public Health.
But if you really want to show of your Beggars' Night jokes, Ankeny is allowing trick or treating on Friday, Oct. 30 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Ames is also allowing trick-or-treating, but will celebrate on Saturday, Oct. 31 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The city recommends the usual COVID-19 precautions: Stay 6 feet away from others, only trick-or-treat with your family, wear a face covering, and don't use a common bowl to hand out treats.
Get to know the origin of Des Moines' pre-Halloween tradition called "Beggars' Night."
Should you go trick-or-treating this year?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled traditional trick or treating as a "high risk" activity for the spread of coronavirus. There are ways to lessen this risk — such as wearing a mask (which covers the nose and mouth, not just as a costume) maintaining 6 feet of distance, setting up one-way trick-or-treating routes and providing individually wrapped packages of candy for kids coming by, health officials recommend.
But even with these precautions, trick-or-treating is still a "moderate risk" activity, Polk County Health Department spokesperson Nola Aigner Davis said.
"So let's say we live with Grandma and Grandpa," she said. "I think the best thing to do is think about the people we're with ... it's really important to think about what we're doing and where we're going, and how that will impact other people. So let's think about some other, low-risk activities we can do."
The CDC recommends activities such as hosting a virtual Halloween costume contest, carving and decorating pumpkins as a family or doing a Halloween scavenger hunt, as low-risk Halloween alternatives.
These alternatives can help keep people, especially those at high risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic, safe while still getting to celebrate the spooky holiday.
"It's not a way to say let's forgo Beggars' Night, let's forgo Halloween — I love Halloween, it's my favorite holiday," Davis said. "And I know families and kids look forward to this. But there are ways families can do this holiday safely."
Many traditional Halloween activities are a risk to spreading COVID-19, so here are some suggestions the CDC has stay safe this spooky season. USA TODAY
Waiting for COVID-19 updates
But at the end of the day, trick-or treating is still a local decision. Davis said the Polk County Health Department will provide tactics for best practices and virus mitigation based on the COVID-19 rates approaching Oct. 30, but trick-or-treating regulations is a city-by-city choice.
"Really, it's up to the cities and the jurisdictions in our county about what they want to do for Beggars' Night," Davis said. "We will provide guidance, but ultimately, it's up to them."
Recommendations will be based on COVID-19 rates in the county, Davis said. The department hopes to see a deceleration in cases before Beggars' Night, she said, but so far, the county has not seen a decrease in infection rates.
Polk County has not been below one new case of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents since March 28, and the county's positivity rate has dipped below 5% only four times in the last 90 days. But a lot could still change before Halloween, she said.
"In terms of what we will see for Beggars Night, this is such a fluid situation, things are changing daily, its really hard to know what things will be like in a month."
Which cities are still waiting to decide to hold Beggars' Night?
Robin Opsahl covers trending news for the Register. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8051.
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