Candy chutes and masks: COVID-19 safety tips for Halloween

If you think Halloween this year needs to be anything like last year’s version, health officials have one answer for you: Nope.

With neighborhoods starting to make plans for how to, or how not to, celebrate Halloween in the middle of a pandemic, some standards have been set to help you make decisions.

Guidelines for Halloween from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Sept. 21 warn against door-to-door trick-or-treating, even if you’re wearing a mask.

Trunk or treat events also are discouraged, along with “crowded costume parties held indoors.”

And don’t even think about visiting indoor haunted houses.

Screaming, as you might imagine, is an effective way to spread COVID-19.

Instead, the CDC advises, opt for outdoor, one-way haunted forests, with ample social distancing particularly to guard against someone screaming close by.

The CDC also gives its blessing to pumpkin patches or orchards as long as “people use hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins or picking apples, wearing masks is encouraged or enforced, and people are able to maintain social distancing.”

If you feel the least bit off, don’t go out at all.

“If you may have COVID-19 or you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should not participate in in-person Halloween festivities and should not give out candy to trick-or-treaters,” the CDC said in its guidelines.

Also on the CDC’s high-risk list: Hayrides or tractor rides with people not in your own household; using alcohol or drugs, which can “cloud judgment and increase risky behaviors”; and traveling to a rural fall festival that’s not your own community and you happen to live in an area with community spread of COVID-19.

In Pierce County, 46 percent of cases were not related to others as of Sept. 30. The higher the percentage, the more community spread.

Halloween celebration options

Health officials are not total kill-joys, though, when it comes to Halloween.

Low risk options include:

Household pumpkin carving

Carving or decorating outside with neighbors or friends at 6 feet or more distance.

A virtual costume contest online.

A Halloween film night with members of your household.

The CDC also recommends a creative scavenger hunt:

“Doing a Halloween scavenger hunt where children are given lists of Halloween-themed things to look for while they walk outdoors from house to house admiring Halloween decorations at a distance.”

The CDC also suggests a similar scavenger hunt indoors with your family.

Moderate risk activities include:

Grab and go trick-or-treating with goodie bags placed at end of driveway or edge of yard.

“If you are preparing goodie bags, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 second before and after preparing the bags,” according to the CDC.

This idea has spawned candy chutes, being planned by neighborhoods including in Tacoma.

“Deliver candy to the neighbor kids via a candy chute delivery tube (a long PVC type on an angle to slide candy through) or a festive basket on your porch where you can offer candy safely from 6 feet away,” according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department in its own Halloween advisory.

Hold a small, outdoor costume parade with socially distanced participants. But, be careful about masking.

“A costume mask (such as for Halloween) is not a substitute for a cloth mask. A costume mask should not be used unless it is made of two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers the mouth and nose and doesn’t leave gaps around the face,” according to the CDC.

Also, according to the CDC: “Do not wear a costume mask over a protective cloth mask because it can be dangerous if the costume mask makes it hard to breathe. Instead, consider using a Halloween-themed cloth mask.”

Halloween businesses evolve

Some groups are finding ways to deliver Halloween events online and at home. After being forced to halt its in-person ghost tours, Seattle Terrors created a mobile app that allows users to take its ghost tours throughout the city on their own. The company also launched Ghostflix for on-demand and live streaming ghost tours.

“We’ve really pivoted, like a lot of other people,” said Josef Kruger, operations manager for Seattle Terrors.

Frighthouse Station, a haunted attraction held annually by Tacoma Haunts at Freighthouse Square, is also changing plans for this year.

“The physical location must remain closed due to the state ban on indoor entertainment,” Tacoma Haunts said on its website. “Despite our efforts to lobby our robust safety plan in Olympia, state officials remain firm.”

Instead, Tacoma Haunts is creating an interactive film called “Abomination.”

“Using the haunt as a backdrop, viewers can experience an exciting horror adventure, all while making various choices to shape the narrative along the way,” the Tacoma Haunt website states. People are encouraged to follow tacomahaunts.com for updates on the film, which will be released later in October.

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Debbie Cockrell has been with The News Tribune since 2009. She reports on business and development, local and regional issues.

Allison Needles covers city and education news for The News Tribune in Tacoma. She was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest.

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