Event still planned after city nixes permits

The City of Oak Harbor denied a request for a special events permit to close a section of Pioneer Way for the annual trick-or-treating event on Halloween, but Oak Harbor Main Street Association is still planning on holding No Tricks Safe Treats, according to Executive Director Dan Evans.

That may change, he said, depending on guidance from the county’s Public Health department on whether the planned safeguards are adequate.

Last month, the city advised Evans in an email that Island County is still in the modified Phase 3 of the governor’s “Safe Start” program, which limits gatherings to no more than 10 people, according to a statement from a city spokesperson.

As a result of the restrictions, “the City cannot permit a special event nor street closure as closing the street would facilitate and encourage the public to gather,” according to the statement.

Island County Public Health Director Keith Higman said he was contacted by the city about Evans’ request and explained that he didn’t think such an event would be allowed under the rules. Every year the event attracts large crowds of costumed kids who gather candy from businesses on Pioneer Way.

Higman pointed to recent communications from the Centers for Disease Control that recommend against trick-or-treating, which is considered a high-risk activity.

Data shows that disease transmission increases when people congregate. Halloween celebrations are also affected by the Safe Start plan’s limit on gatherings.

“This limitation will reduce activities to small groups of people not congregating in the same location and certainly not participating in any planned events,” Higman wrote in an email to the city.

The city forwarded the information from Higman to Evans.

Evans, who is also a Republican candidate for county commissioner, said he believes the downtown merchants have figured out a way to hold the event and still comply with state rules and CDC guidelines.

“It’s so important for kids to have something to look forward to,” he said, noting how much kids love to show off their costumes.

Since the city won’t close the road, the costumed kids will have to stay on sidewalks. Crossing guards will help people cross the road safely, Evans said. Businesses that are participating will be marked with chalk on the sidewalk.

While the CDC calls all trick-or-tricking activities “high risk” — including “trunk-or-treating” — Evans claims the event won’t really be trick-or-treating. The flow of families will be controlled so they won’t be waiting in long lines, but they will approach each participating business as a single family. Social distancing rules will be followed and merchants will wear gloves.

Monster masks, he said, comply with mask rules, though Higman said that’s not true if there are holes for kids to breathe.

Evans said he spoke with a Public Health staff person who said the plans sounded good, but he hadn’t talked with Higman yet.

Main Street’s event is advertised as 12-6 p.m. Oct. 31 in downtown Oak Harbor. Trick-or-treating is for children age 14 and under at participating businesses. Participants are supposed to wear masks and social distance.

“Let’s make this a Halloween where traditions and memories are created as safely as possible,” the advertisement states.

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