One month left of on-campus classes. Once again, it feels almost miraculous. Now with Halloween approaching fast, life seems almost magical as the University of New Hampshire (UNH) manages to have low numbers of positive cases for the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the spooky holiday season is upon us. But on the Durham campus, there is a fear worse than any ghost or slasher horror film – a fear that students will treat this Halloween like any other and ignore social distancing.
Many UNH upperclassmen are well-aware of how hectic partying can be on what is dubbed “Halloweekend” – often the closest weekend to Halloween in October. And with partying comes drinking, both legal and not, lowering inhibitions as well as people’s guard. In a normal year, there would be safety concerns to be sure but an overall apathy from the student body; parties, whether you’re a participant or a bystander, are a fact of college life nation-wide. But this year is different. After almost eight months of COVID-19 shaking the United States along with the rest of the world, a successful vaccine is still a ways away. Pandemics aside, Halloween is also special this year as well. Finally landing on Saturday this year, making it a true Halloweekend, with a full moon to boot, many are excited for this Halloween. But is that excitement something to be worried about?
Chief Paul Dean, head of UNH police department, stresses the importance of students staying safe this semester and being vigilant in light of Halloweekend:
“Given the Covid-19 policies and, our good progress to date, I am concerned students might see our low positive testing numbers as an excuse to let their guard down. When you see the increase in cases in other parts of New Hampshire and New England, it’s vital we stay the course for the next 30 days and continue to wear masks, physically distance, wash hands, get a flu shot, and not invite friends from home to come to campus.”
Despite concerns about student behavior before the start of the fall semester and with Halloweekend approaching, Chief Dean regards the student body positively in their collective effort to follow protocol: “Our student body has been amazing. Very few issues and, I can’t thank our students enough for their efforts around compliance with Covid-19 policies.”
On campus, reports of rising numbers of COVID-19 cases across the country and even in New Hampshire seem like another world away amidst our frequent testing and few incidents. Despite speculations that campuses such as UNH would become a hotbed for infections after several incidents near the start of the school year, college campuses should heed Chief Dean’s advice – do not let your guard down.
Returning to the subject of Halloween, there are currently very few events planned to coincide with Halloweekend. While there will be more information on on-campus events and measures to come soon according to Chief Dean, a glance at the university’s organization event page shows very little going on during the infamous Halloweekend, particularly with Halloween related events. Even organizations such as the UNH Campus Activities Board (CAB), known in the past for campus-wide events such as bingo nights and May Day, seem to have more subdued events this year, with a tentative Halloween painting event the Thursday of Oct. 29. This lack of events can be seen as a double-edged sword. On one hand, Halloween-related events may be subject to large and unmanageable crowds, whether physically or digitally. Yet on the other hand, will a lack of school-endorsed Halloween events make students more prone to seek out their own forms of entertainment through parties and large gatherings?
From my experience as a college student and someone who, like the rest of you, has been living through a global once-in-a-century pandemic, the concept of some people’s innate need to seek out unregulated Halloween parties seems somewhat mind-boggling. Does no one remember that signature lull we all experienced in our teens, where we outgrew trick-or-treating and spent the holiday becoming homebodies and haunting our own houses?
While there admittedly was a certain thrill as a kid going out trick-or-treating in an expensive Halloween costume that would often never see the light of day again after that one night, the world changed a bit when you realized that you could just stay home and watch The Addams Family Values on the couch and eat the candy you liked in a Whopper-less wonderland. And now with things like Zoom and Netflix Party, staying home for Halloween isn’t condemning yourself to a Halloween party of one. This is not to say that there aren’t ways to be social outside of your home this Halloween. Many places do have precautions in place to help maintain some normalcy, and plenty of dorms are having their own small functions to celebrate Halloween. So with all of the different and safe ways to celebrate Halloween out there, it would seem almost silly that people are desperate to party- that is, if these weren’t serious times where everyone’s safety is at stake. House parties will exist after the pandemic. Opportunities to drink (legally) will exist after the pandemic (it really is not worth the trouble otherwise). But unless we make the collective effort to be safe and practice self-restraint, even when it means missing out on some things, we are just tricking ourselves and extending this pandemic – something that is not a treat for anyone.