City of Kent’s plan for Halloween during COVID-19 pandemic

KENT, Ohio — The City of Kent Trick-or-Treat event and annual Halloween party are coming up, and with the COVID-19 risk level increasing in Portage County, the Kent Police Department and Health Department plan to ensure everyone taking part in the festivities this year stays safe.

Every year, the city of Kent gets a little spooky for the first popular holiday of the fall season. As Halloween creeps closer, friends and families visit orchards, haunted houses and corn mazes, decorate their houses and carve pumpkins that are later set out on their front porch steps. 

Although many of these activities are fun and attached to yearly traditions, due to the presence of COVID-19, it’s important that people choose to celebrate Halloween by participating in activities that do not pose a high risk of contracting or spreading the virus. It is also important that while participating in any activities, people are practicing social distancing and following the state and local safety guidelines.

The City of Kent Trick-or-Treat event, which is held on the Sunday before Halloween this year, Oct. 25, is where people of all ages can go trick-or-treating around their neighborhood with their friends and families. 

Headshot of Michael Anguilano III. the Public Information Officer for the KCHD.
Headshot of Michael Anguilano III. the Public Information Officer for the KCHD. (Courtesy of Michael Anguilano III).

This event is usually coupled with the family-friendly Halloween celebration, where people of all ages can trick-or-treat at downtown businesses, which helps generate revenue for some of the local businesses. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that portion of the event has been canceled. 

“Main Street Kent is not doing their business trick-or-treating,” Michael Anguilano III, the Public Information Officer for the Kent City Health Department (KCHD), said. “They just can’t have it this year, there’s just no way to really do it socially distant.”

During the city of Kent Trick-or-Treat event, there will be police officers going around to ensure everyone is safe. In addition, the officers will be passing out candy to kids, Chief of Police Nicholas Shearer said.

“It’s more so to have a presence there, to make sure everyone’s safe,” Shearer said. “If there’s a crime or somebody’s doing something they shouldn’t be doing, we would address that, but there’s no specific thing we’re out looking for other than to maintain safety for everyone involved.”

As for the health department’s role in the trick-or-treating event in Kent this year, they are taking the preventative stance, providing guidance for parents, community members and event operators, as they understand that Halloween activities are going to happen regardless of if they ask them not to, Anguilano said.

Headshot of Chief of Police Nicholas Shearer.
Headshot of Chief of Police Nicholas Shearer. (Courtesy of Nicholas Shearer).

“While it may feel like the holiday is ruined, really the holiday itself is not ruined,” Anguilano said. “We just have to be mindful of not only ourselves, but each other. We provided the guidance; we just want people to be as safe as possible.”

The annual Halloween party in Kent is not a city-sanctioned event, but one that was started years ago by the local bars and restaurants in downtown Kent. Typically, the Halloween party takes place on the Saturday before Halloween, but since Halloween falls on a Saturday this year, it is anticipated that the Halloween party will take place on Halloween night, Oct. 31, Shearer said.

Kent’s downtown restaurants and bars celebrate by having specials and holding entertainment events, such as costume contests. Taking part in this coveted event has become a rite of passage and tradition for many Kent State University students and Kent city residents, while also bringing in a good amount of out-of-city visitors.

Michael Anguilano III talks about out of city visitors.
Michael Anguilano III talks about assumption of turnout for Halloween this year.

“There’s going to be some changes this year, just because bars have to maintain all of the COVID regulation,” Shearer said. “This includes reduced capacity, physical distancing and mask-wearing inside. Above and beyond that, they’ll still have to close early to stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m.”

In addition to the downtown party, there are also numerous off-campus house parties that typically happen during the Halloween weekend in Kent. It is anticipated that there will be more off-campus house parties than in previous years due to the bars closing early, Shearer said.

“[The CDC safety regulations] are things that are enforced by the health department, not the police department,” Shearer said. “But, we will have extra officers out in that area just to make sure that everything is going the way it should and trying to maintain the safety of everyone.”

Although the police department cannot enforce the CDC safety regulations, they are able to enforce two laws in relation to house parties, including the unlawful noise ordinance and declaring nuisance parties.

Chief of Police Nicholas Shearer talks about unlawful noise ordinance.
Chief of Police Nicholas Shearer talking about nuisance parties.

The police department also plans to have extra staffing on Halloween night and will work in collaboration with the Kent State University Police Department (KSUPD) to enforce the laws mentioned above. This collaboration is mainly behind-the-scenes work, gathering as much intelligence as they can on what to anticipate for Halloween night. For the most part, the KSUPD works on campus that night but will help the Kent police department if needed, Shearer said.

In the past, the health department has not had a role on the actual night of Halloween, as it falls under the police department’s jurisdiction. This year will be similar, but with the addition of providing guidance when needed and ensuring bars are abiding by the public health rules, Anguilano said.

“The health department will be planning on keeping a close eye on things,” Anguilano said. “Perhaps a little bit closer than normal but, for the most part, the city has done a very good job in the past and we’re not going to change that, aside from maybe looking at some other public health guidelines along the way.”

Since the reopening of businesses after quarantine, the KCHD has sent their members to bars to ensure they’re following guidelines, assisting in any way to help people follow those guidelines or to inform individuals who are working there what they need to do to get back into compliance. The KCHD plans to continue this work on Halloween night, Anguilano said.

“We don’t want to send bars down to the state for further investigation, but our goal is to keep the community safe,” Anguilano said. “Not just Kent State students but people who students may interact with and not even really know that they do. We want people to have their fun but we want people to follow the guidelines.”

In the case that health department members have to report to a bar or a party where there is a risk of danger present to the health department members, a police officer would be provided to go to the location with them for security reasons, upon request, Shearer said. 

“I understand that people are in college and they want to have a fun experience,” Shearer said. “We want people to have as much fun as they can, but the pandemic has obviously created a little bit of a problem with some of that. We want it to just be done as safely as possible. We ask that people honor those health orders, that they limit the size of their gatherings, maintain social distancing and just be safe.”