Halloween, pandemic style

Let’s face it, 2020 has been plenty scary, and as we round the corner on arguably the scariest and, for some of us, absolute best holiday of the year, many folks are wondering just what exactly pandemic Halloween will look like. Sadly, many traditional ways of celebrating are now considerably more frightful than usual just because they bring the risk of spreading COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new guidelines on how to celebrate Halloween safely, and the guidelines are grouped into, higher-risk, moderate-risk and lower-risk buckets.

The higher-risk category includes both door-to-door trick-or-treating and events where kids get treats from the trunks of cars in big parking lots. Both are discouraged. Crowded, boozy costume parties aren’t recommended either. Also listed as no-gos are indoor haunted houses with lots of screaming people, hayrides with people who aren’t in your household or trekking to fall festivals in rural areas where you don’t live. Since these are practically fall/Halloween rituals for a lot of people, the question this year is how to get your thrills instead?

The CDC says this way of trick-or-treating poses a moderate risk compared with the higher risk of the traditional style: Kids can pick up individually wrapped gift bags at the end of a driveway or yard while still maintaining social distance. Also recommended are small outdoor costume parades where everyone is 6-feet apart. An outdoor costume party would also be considered a moderate risk as long as people wear masks and stay 6-feet away from each other.

Haunted houses are out, but the good news is that haunted forests are in. The CDC says an open-air scare-fest is just moderately risky, as long as the route is one-way and people wear masks and stay 6-feet apart. However, if screaming is likely to occur, greater distancing is advised. Well, most of us screamers are busy running in the opposite direction anyway, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

What about apple picking and pumpkin patches? The CDC says risks can be reduced if people use hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins or apples, wear masks and maintain social distancing. Also on the moderate-risk list are outdoor, socially distanced scary movie nights with friends. Again, the more screaming there is, the more space is needed for safe social distancing. Easy to say when you’re not the one watching Rob Zombie’s Halloween.

If you want to be really, really safe, you should plan for either virtual activities or ones that you do largely with your own household. The CDC’s lower-risk activities include carving pumpkins indoors with family members or outdoors with friends while socially distanced. They also suggest a Halloween scavenger hunt where you look for ghosts, spider webs and black cats outside houses while walking around or a scavenger hunt for treats in your own home.

And what about masks? According to the CDC, a costume mask is no substitute for a cloth mask, but don’t double up with one over the other because that can make it hard to breathe. Instead, consider a Halloween-themed cloth mask. A costume mask can protect against spreading the coronavirus if it’s like a regular cloth mask in that it consists of two or more layers of breathable fabric covering the nose and mouth, without gaps around the face.

One last thing to keep in mind that really shouldn’t need to be said: If you think you might have COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who does, don’t attend in-person Halloween activities and certainly don’t hand out candy to trick-or-treaters. For a lot of folks, this is the most wonderful time of the year. Let’s all do our best to keep it safe and fun.

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