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Arts & Life

No Shrieking, Keep Your Distance And Other Advice As Kansas City Prepares For a Pandemic Halloween

101520_cm_COVIDHalloween
Photo Illustration-Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3

Trick-or-treating and Halloween parties in 2020 require a new way of thinking. Here are tips from the experts on how to stay safe.

The leaves are turning, a chill is in the air and around Kansas City parents are assembling the materials necessary to turn their children into pumpkins, robots, princesses and ghouls for Halloween on Oct 31.

But something spookier than fake blood and creepy costumes will be prowling the streets on the traditional trick-or-treat night. On neighborhood lawns and social media forums, people are asking: How do you observe Halloween in a pandemic?

"Hopefully people will be able to find some options that will enable them to enjoy the spirit of the holiday without putting themselves and others at risk," says A.J. Herrmann, Mayor Quinton Lucas’ director of policy.

It’s easy enough to rationalize the traditional door-to-door activity. It's outdoors. Groups can remain small. This is one event where masks are already expected. So grab the hand sanitizer and hit the streets, right?

But does all that make Halloween safe? Or is it just parents longing for the normalcy of allowing their children to engage in a time-honored ritual — and maybe cadging a few coveted Snickers and Heath bars from the little monsters’ stashes?

Adults who don't have children of trick-or-treat age have questions, too. Is it safe to open the door to small goblins and fairies and their parents? How much candy should should they buy?

Herrmann says he can't advise on the candy issue: "It just depends on how comfortable you are with leftovers. I’ll leave it up to folks to decide individually whether that would be a good thing or a bad thing."

Fortunately, plenty of good information is available on line and from local governments and health departments. Kansas City’s site links to CDC guidance, for instance. The Johnson County Health Department’s site links to both the CDC and Kansas Department of Health.

From these resources, we've ranked activities based on risk. The bottom line this Halloween is that parents and others must assess the amount of risk they’re willing to take in celebrating this and other upcoming holidays.

Higher Risk Activities:

· Traditional, door-to-door trick-or-treating.

· Trunk-or-treat functions, where children move from car to car picking up candy.

· Indoor costume parties.

· Indoor haunted houses where people are screaming (think extra breath and spit).

· Hayrides with members of multiple households.

· Travelling to festivals outside of your community.

Moderate Risk Activities:

· Staging a small, outdoor, appropriately spaced costume parade through a neighborhood.

· Small outdoor gatherings where people are spaced and wearing cloth masks. The experts warn that a Halloween mask is not a substitute for a regular mask.

· Outdoor pumpkin patches or orchards where distancing and masking are enforced and maintained.

Low Risk Activities:

· Decorating your yard or house, or doing craft projects with members of your own household.

· Carving pumpkins with members of your household.

· Virtual costume party/contest or pumpkin carving contest.

· Plan a candy exchange with families you know who agree on a safe method of picking up or dropping off treats for each other.

· Create a walking scavenger hunt or bingo card for items like decorations or leaf colors.

· Orchestrate a family-only haunted house where you live.

If you do still want to participate in traditional trick-or-treating, the Johnson County Health Department has tips for doing that more safely.

For those staying home to answer the door:

· Use tape to mark waiting spots on your front walk.

· Wear a mask when opening the door.

· Rather than dropping candy into a child’s bag, slide the candy through a gift wrap tube to create some distance, or create individually wrapped goodie bags children can pick up while remaining spaced apart from each other.

Unattended bowls of candy are not recommended, because many people will touch the candy and a bowl might cause several people to gather in close proximity to each other.

For those going door to door:

· Wear a properly fitting mask as you would elsewhere in public.

· Keep a distance of at least six feet from other revelers; sanitize and wash hands often.

· Buy a small amount of candy for kids to dive into on Halloween night, then set aside what they’ve collected for at least 24 hours.

Herrmann has a couple of points he wants to emphasize: “I think one specific thing to know is that a costume mask really isn’t a substitute for a cloth mask or a surgical mask, so that’s something some folks think: ‘Oh, my costume has a mask, that’ll work fine.’”

Also: Think before you scream. Screaming, Herrmann says, expels just as much air as singing and requires just as great an intake of breath, both of which health experts warn can increase virus transmission risk.

“If you’re in the middle of a field and decide to scream, that's totally fine,” Herrmann says. "But if you’re around other folks or in a place where you could be putting others at risk, just try and think about it.”