As the October leaves transformed into golden shades of yellow and the sun set early, Halloween slowly crept its way into students’ busy schedules. Similar to COVID-19, Halloween is an event that marks obscure and sudden surprises. Living amidst a pandemic, a haunting shift in party culture was a spook that students’ did not see coming.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated a list of safety guidelines on Oct. 19 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to the CDC Holiday Safety Guidelines, high-risk activities include “attending crowded costume parties held indoors,” and “going on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household.”
For low-risk activities, the CDC recommends spending the holidays with people you live with and doing outdoor activities, such as carving pumpkins at a safe distance with neighbors and friends.
Giovanni Zumbo, a senior at UO, was born in Arezzo, Italy. Zumbo thought partying played a big factor in the “American college experience,” he said. “As a foreigner, I joined a fraternity for that reason.”
Zumbo said he partied and socialized in his previous years at UO. Due to the pandemic, his plans, along with others, were different from his usual college tradition. This year, Zumbo stayed home with his roommates for Halloween instead of partying. “Nothing too exciting,” he said. “I had a great time.”
Zumbo, along with several other students, followed the Oregon Health Authority’s public safety guidelines. OHA released a news report with recommendations on how to promote safety during the holidays.
“It is safest to stay home and celebrate,” according to the OHA report.
Zumbo said he misses the way things used to be before the pandemic. “If there’s one year I wanted to be the most fun, I feel like it would be my senior year,” he said. “Just to go all out, before I buckle down and get ready for the adult life. It bums me out a lot.”
He said if the pandemic didn’t exist, he would have attended the local bars in Eugene. Although some campus bars, like Rennie’s Landing, are open for seating, Zumbo chose not to go because of the increase in COVID-19 cases he’s noticed. “It’s not a great time to break the rules,” he said. “It bums me out a lot.”
Zumbo, being a senior, said his final year at UO feels “devastating." He believes there is a chance life will return to normal, but he feels concerned because he said he thinks other students don't care about the virus.
Sam Bilotta, a senior at UO, celebrated Halloween cautiously by staying home with her friends and boyfriend as they dressed up in costumes. “I was Han Solo and my boyfriend was Leia,” she said. “It was pretty funny.”
Over the weekend, Bilotta said she overheard partying along with loud music on her street and she felt disappointed about it. Same as Zumbo, she said she feels like some students are not taking the pandemic seriously.
Without the pandemic, Bilotta said she would have also visited the Eugene bars. “I would much rather miss out on doing stuff and staying safe, than do the things I want to do selfishly and get either myself or someone else I care about sick,” she said.
Although students attempted to celebrate safely, the university continues to record positive COVID-19 cases. The university’s current COVID-19 alert level remains at high status.
Bilotta said if the campus community agreed to quarantine for three weeks, she feels like everyone would gain more access to activities and “a greater sense of normality.”
In the future, she plans to celebrate upcoming holidays safely by connecting with family and friends over the phone and video chat. “For my health and safety, I need to prioritize keeping my interaction bubble pretty tight,” she said.
Similar to Bilotta, Zumbo said he plans to stay safe by avoiding crowded spaces and interactions with people he doesn't know.
Jose Paniagua, a first-year student at UO, said he and two other students dressed up in costumes on Halloween and stayed in his friend's dorm room at the Living Learning Center.
“I put on a simple sailor outfit,” he said. “My other friends dressed up too.”
Paniagua said before COVID-19, he expected a bigger party scene going into his first year at UO. He said he’s never experienced a “real college party” and wishes he had more opportunities to meet students and go out because of what he’s seen on social media and TV.
“I’m not mad because there’s other things to be mad about in the world, but it’s kind of a bummer,” he said.
Because Zumbo and Bilotta didn’t have to deal with COVID-19 during their freshman year, they had more freedom to explore and meet new people without the stress and restrictions this year's incoming class face. Paniagua’s experience has played out differently than he hoped for. He said because of the pandemic, this year has felt weird and Halloween was a let down.
Paniagua said if COVID-19 didn't exist, he would have gone out with friends to a party. Due to restrictions, he chose to stay in with his close friends to prevent the risks of spreading and catching the coronavirus.
For future holidays and celebrations, Paniagua said he wants to follow safe guidelines by gathering with friends who he sees regularly. “It feels safe to be around them,” he said.
The OHA report includes a section called “meal safety” that provides tips on ways to safely gather for holiday meals, such as Thanksgiving. OHA recommends meal preparation and eating should be with immediate household members. They also suggest avoiding sharing utensils and hands should be frequently washed, according to the OHA report.
“it’s a short-term sacrifice to better improve the public health of the community,” Bilotta said. “Risky behaviors lead to less things being available in the long run."