As with most events and gatherings since COVID-19 mitigation concerns have become the forefront of local decision making, Halloween will look a little different for residents this year.
Maryville’s City Council is encouraging both the annual downtown Trick-or-Treat event and the Haunted Campground at Mozingo Lake Recreation Park to hold off this year in light of the coronavirus’ continued impact on Maryville and surrounding communities.
City Manager Greg McDanel and the City Council discussed what it would mean for Maryville to discourage going forward with the events, both usually bringing large crowds.
“This whole thing is putting a numerous amount of decisions on city council that are no-win scenarios,” McDanel said. “Halloween is still going to continue. How many people participate or not is going to be up to each individual person.”
During their conversation, it became evident the city’s largest role in the Halloween events is blocking off portions of streets downtown and providing other safety measures throughout the nights of both events.
These safety measures were something city staff didn’t seem comfortable ceasing to do if the events continued regardless of staff discretion.
Mayor Ben Lipeic asked about the age range of those who attend the Haunted Campground and how many people usually attend both events.
Assistant City Manager Ryan Heiland responded and said the campground typically brings anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 people and that people from all ages attend, including grandparents, who according to research, are most vulnerable to COVID-19.
The council shared a similar concern with both events: how social distancing would be accomplished.
“I personally love Halloween … so it pains me to say that I just ... I think that these events, us saying that we think that it’s fine to do that — I feel like it’s reckless,” Councilwoman Rachael Martin said.
Rachael Martin also said the city is at a time where keeping the number of COVID-19 cases low is becoming increasingly important. She said enforcing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines at these events would be tricky, since she has seen community members not wearing masks where the city ordinance calls for them.
Twyla Martin, who organizes the Haunted Campground, was in attendance at the meeting. She said enforcing the CDC guidelines would be nearly impossible.
“You can't,” she said. “You can’t with that many kids.”
Along with its recommendation for regular events to not be held this year, the City Council discussed the possibility of events happening anyway and a plan of action for that situation.
With the likelihood of people privately deciding to continue with similar Halloween events, the council said it would not sanction activities but recognize the city’s role going forward.
“You don’t have to sanction it, but we can recognize if they do it anyway, we can help out by giving masks,” Councilman Matt Johnson said. “The best course of action, if it’s going to happen anyway, is to provide them with another level of safety.”
The rest of council agreed with this suggestion, saying if social distancing can’t be accomplished, the city’s role would change this year to helping promote a new level of safety.
Speaking to council members concerns, McDanel said both event organizers were expecting lower-than-normal crowds at their respective events due to the coronavirus. Now, with a recommendation for the events to take a year off, event leader Twyla Martin said she understands and shares the council’s concerns.
“I’ve been going back and forth with this for a couple months now thinking ‘What am I going to do?’” Twyla Martin said. “We’ll try it next year.”