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How to Plan a Fall Festival in 2020

Wondering if you can still host a fall festival, trunk-or-treat, or similar event this year? It depends on where you live, of course, as well as how much risk you’re willing to assume. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you assess the current COVID-19 levels in your community before making that call. (The Harvard Global Health Institute offers real-time updates on its Risk Levels Dashboard.)

If local health officials allow gatherings amid COVID-19, offering low-risk activities that follow CDC recommendations may give your community a small taste of “normal.” With some creativity, your church or school may be able to modify one or more of its autumn traditions. 

Lower the Risk Posed by Traditional Activities​

Many fall traditions, such as hayrides, trick-or-treating, and trunk-or-treat events, are being discouraged this year by the CDC. It says people should avoid these higher risk activities to help prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. It also offers alternatives that reduce the risk. The lowest risk activities involve staying at home. View the CDC’s guidance on holiday celebrations.

If your ministry decides to host an event this fall, despite the risk, it’s important to take precautions designed to limit the possible spread of disease.

For starters, limit the number of people who can attend your event, based on recommendations set by your local health department. One way might be to require advance registration and give people assigned arrival times. This could make it easier to control the flow of attendees, plus provide a list if contract tracing becomes necessary. Next, require everyone to wear protective face coverings. A costume mask should not replace a protective mask. Finally, take additional measures to lower the risk of infection by hosting an outdoor event with appropriate social distancing and sanitation. See the CDC’s recommendations on hosting gatherings.

Here’s how you might modify a trunk-or-treat event.

How Trunk-or-Treats work

    The idea is to decorate the trunks of various vehicles and distribute candy in a personalized and fun way. Children can go car to car, gather candy, and enjoy the themes and decorations. Trunk-or-treats may be done, day or night, and they offer an alternative to kids walking through neighborhoods, knocking on stranger’s doors. They also offer an opportunity to reach out to the community with the Gospel and a positive message about your church or school.

Parking Precautions

Much like the drive-in worship services some churches offered this year, it’s important to provide adequate space between cars. This can be done by staggering occupied spaces in a parking lot or by making sure vehicles are at least six feet apart.

You’ll want to clearly designate and secure separate areas for the following:

  • Decorated cars participating in the trunk-or-treat
  • Parking for families who are bringing their kids
  • An area for games/food, etc.

To prevent accidents that can happen when children mix with cars:

  • Have a designated time for people to get their decorated cars in place before the event starts and a designated time to pull their cars out after the event ends. This minimizes car movement during the event.
  • Remind participants to keep their cars turned off for the entire event.
  • Ensure all children are a safe distance away before allowing cars to move.
  • Watch for children darting into unsecured areas. 

Considerations for Volunteers

Guide decorated vehicles to their spaces for the trunk-or-treat.

  • Direct traffic in and out of your parking lot.
  • Limit event attendance, per your local health department.
  • Control the flow of participants.
  • Enforce rules and promote social distancing.
  • Instruct all volunteers how to distribute treats in a sanitary way.
  • Allow only prepackaged treats to be given away.
  • Have all participants wear protective masks.
  • Require the use of hand sanitizer by people distributing treats.
  • Hand out treats individually, rather than letting multiple children grab candy from a bowl.
  • In the alternative, have volunteers space out treats on a table placed between themselves and the children. 

Safety Tips for Guests

  • Remind guests to stay home if they have been exposed to COVID-19 in the past 14 days or are showing COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Encourage guests to wear protective face coverings, incorporating them into costumes, when possible.
  • Have children follow a clearly marked, one-way path through the trunk-or-treat area.
  • Siblings can stick together, but all other children should stay at least six feet apart from each other.
  • Require parental supervision for all children.
  • Ask parents to inspect treats before children eat them.
  • Urge everyone to respect the designated areas for treats and games to avoid accidents in the parking lot.

Before We Gather

       In preparation for resuming normal ministry operations, many ministries are asking if they could be held liable if individuals become ill with COVID-19 after attending ministry in-person activities. While it is possible that a ministry could be sued in connection with the transmission of COVID-19, the likelihood of such a lawsuit being successful seems relatively low. In order for such a lawsuit to succeed, the person bringing the suit would likely need to show that he or she actually contracted COVID-19 within the ministry’s building or at a ministry-sponsored activity. Even if someone were able to show that they contracted COVID-19 within a ministry’s building or during a ministry-sponsored activity, they still would need to show that the ministry’s actions or lack of action actually caused the transmission. With the prevalence of COVID-19 in many communities and how easily it is spread, it likely would be very challenging to establish this. Further, the potential existence of the presence of COVID-19 in any public setting is widely known and individuals that voluntarily attend ministry activities likely have assumed the risk. However, it is important to note that this is a new situation from a legal perspective, and it is unclear how all of this would play out in an actual court case.

       Ministry leaders are encouraged to prepare and take steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19, which should serve to also reduce the risk of liability. It is important to note that acting contrary to government directives and recommendations may increase a ministry’s risk of liability. Ministry leaders are encouraged to seek guidance from a local attorney to determine the best course of action in relation to resuming their ministry’s normal operations.

Resources on Resuming Normal Operations