OTTAWA -- Trick-or-treating is not recommended in Ottawa this year, but the mayor says no one will get a ticket if they do go out.

Ottawa's medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, told City Council on Wednesday that she does not recommend residents take their kids out trick-or-treating this Hallowe'en.

"I recommend that people stay with the members of their household, that you look at ways to have candy for kids in your household in a different way," she said, in response to questions from Coun. Jenna Sudds.

Dr. Etches said she knows Hallowe'en is fun, even admitting to enjoying dressing up in costumes herself, but said that there are safe ways to enjoy the season in the grips of COVID-19 pandemic.

"Dress up, share costumes with pictures, do these things more virtually," she said. "There's lots of fun to be had. People need to have fun right now and dressing up is one of those things. We all need that. I really encourage people to go wild… with members of your household."

She also recommends carving pumpkins outdoors, as long as physical distancing is kept, but gatherings should not exceed provincial limits.

The risks of trick-or-treating are the same as other events where people are gathering in groups, Dr. Etches said, and that, despite it being something kids look forward to all year, it's not an essential activity.

"There is more risk when people come into close contact with others. If people are moving around the neighbourhood, children in groups, it's easy for more mixing to occur," she said. "There is the possibility of multiple people touching different things. That can lead to transmission."

Passing out candy could be a risky activity if someone has the virus but has no symptoms and is passing out candy. She noted it's also harder to keep kids' hands clean.

"We need to do all we can outside of schools to keep children from mixing," Dr. Etches said. "[Trick-or-treating] isn't an essential activity. Right now, the government is asking us to stay to members of household and to limit our trips to what is essential. It just doesn't fit right now."

Ottawa is at OPH's "Red" level of COVID-19 alert, prompted by rising case counts, hospitalizations and outbreaks. Earlier at City Council, Dr. Etches said Ottawa had the highest rate of people testing positive for COVID-19 per capita in all of Ontario.

Local public health recommendation trumps other advice

Dr. Etches addressed seemingly conflicting messages from other levels of government when speaking to council, Wednesday.

Canada's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Tuesday that trick-or-treating can still happen, depending on local rules. 

"There’s some really interesting ideas where people are handing out treats at the end of a hockey stick or something," Tam said. "Using a pool noodle to tell your kids how far they should be standing apart from [other people]."

Dr. Etches stressed that the local response is the final response.

"Dr. Tam said to follow the direction of your local medical officer of health. She is not contradicting my advice. She is pointing to me and saying, 'follow her advice,'" Dr. Etches said. "My desire in saying don't go out door-to-door is to be consistent with our other advice locally. Limit your trips outside the household to essential activities. It's consistent for me to say trick-or-treating in that way is not essential."

No Hallowe'en tickets: Watson

Mayor Jim Watson says bylaw officers will not hand out tickets to trick-or-treaters or their parents, if they choose to go out on Hallowe'en.

"We will not be enforcing the suggestion that people stay at home. We will not be sending out bylaw officers," Watson told reporters on Wednesday. "Police have a greater presence on Hallowe'en because of road safety and vandalism, but there will be no ticketing for kids going door-to-door. Absolutely not."

The mayor says he respects the advice from Dr. Etches to avoid going trick-or-treating and he encourages people to hold off on it this year.

"No one wants to be the Grinch who stole Hallowe'en, but Dr. Etches's advice is sound," he said. "If I had kids, I would not take them door-to-door. For my own house, I will not be handing out candy. I'd rather see our numbers go down and have a better, more exciting Hallowe'en in 2021."