In preparation for the fall holidays, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department released new guidance on Friday regarding best practices for celebrating Halloween during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a Friday press conference, county public health officials outlined some of the risks of celebrating Halloween traditionally and gave options for safe alternatives.

"Traditional trick-or-treating will not be possible this year. Our plan provides a modified trick or treating plan that is safe for everyone in our community," Santa Barbara County Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said. 

According to the guidelines, those handing out candy to trick-or-treaters are prohibited from handing it out from inside their home. Instead, candy must be left outside in a grab-and-go fashion, with houses encouraged to provide tongs for candy retrieval. 

All trick-or-treaters and adults will also be required to wear face coverings while outside, and are encouraged not to eat candy until they have washed their hands. Families are also encouraged to stay in their own neighborhoods to prevent transmitting illness in multiple areas. 

While the county's COVID-19 case rates have dropped considerably over the past month, allowing the county to move into the red tier last Tuesday, the coming flu and holiday season have officials worried. 

"With fall and winter holidays around the corner, we are concerned about cases rising due to gatherings," Do-Reynoso said.

Officials reiterated that gatherings of people from different households are still not permitted in the county, and that even though the county has advanced into a new tier, the red tier still implies substantial spread of COVID-19. 

As an alternative to trick-or-treating and Halloween gatherings, county officials recommended celebrating with Halloween movies at home, carving pumpkins with family or roommates, having an in-house candy scavenger hunt, or participating in virtual celebrations. 

Residents can also participate in a car parade or socially-distanced costume parade, officials said. 

The county will be providing its own alternative this year with a countywide virtual contest parade, where residents can submit a photo of their costume to the county. Winning costumes will then be shown in a televised parade on Oct. 31, according to 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart. 

"We are less than a month away from Halloween and, like many other things, Halloween must look different this year," Hart said. 

COVID-19 cases 

In addition to new guidance, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department confirmed 26 additional COVID-19 cases on Friday. A total of 9,249 total cases have now been confirmed in the county, with 168 cases still considered active and contagious. 

The number of hospitalizations in the county decreased by 21.7% from Thursday to the lowest it has been in months. Eighteen individuals are currently hospitalized, including five in the ICU, according to county public health data

In the city of Santa Maria, 75 out of 3,953 cases remain active. Sixty-two individuals have died.

In the community of Orcutt, nine out of 330 cases remain active. Three individuals have died. 

In the city of Lompoc, 22 out of 851 cases remain active. Eight individuals have died. 

In the Santa Ynez Valley, which includes the areas of Solvang, Buellton, Los Olivos, Los Alamos, Santa Ynez and Ballard, two out of 153 cases remain active. Seven individuals have died.