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We're not in a horror movie, so we can make responsible, potentially life-saving choices.

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY BARTHOLOMEW  - There are some good alternatives to trick-or-treating, house parties and other typical Halloween festivities.Horror movie protagonists usually make poor choices.

For many of us, there's a thrill in watching thinly drawn characters bumble toward their doom. After all, if these C-list actors were portraying people with any smarts, how would they end up trapped in a haunted house with a vengeful poltergeist, or a socially maladjusted serial killer, or the devil incarnate?

Thankfully, real life isn't a horror movie — even if you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise at times in 2020. And unlike the stock characters who serve only to be the victims of a jump scare, our fates are not written.

This Halloween, as we know too well, an invisible killer is stalking us. Thankfully, most of the people who contract the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 will recover, and many with mild symptoms and no lasting adverse effects. But the virus is universally regarded as a deadly menace by medical experts, because it's contagious enough to spread out of control and serious enough to send a significant fraction of those who contract it to the hospital, potentially with very serious complications.

As local and state officials in Oregon continue to resist the idea of a new "lockdown" despite alarming new case counts, it falls on us to make good choices. We are the ones who need to be responsible, in order to keep ourselves and our neighbors and loved ones safe.

We can imagine what the hapless denizens of Elm Street and Crystal Lake would do when confronted with this pathogen — namely, the mistakes they would make. We can imagine shouting at the screen, "No! Wear a mask! Wash your hands! Don't throw that house party! Don't sing karaoke! Don't lick that doorknob!" These are, of course, very stupid and unfortunate characters, making very stupid and unfortunate choices, because the plot demands that they befall horrible fates and that we, at some level, enjoy watching them.

We can make much better choices than the hormone-addled camp counselors of supernatural fiction. And to combat the real-life horror of COVID-19, that's what we have to do.

Here are some ideas for staying safe this Halloween weekend while still enjoying the holiday.

Trick-or-treat at home

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define "close contact" for COVID-19 tracing purposes as 15 minutes during a 24-hour period in proximity to another person, and your kids are probably not going to spend 15 minutes explaining their costume choices and rooting around in the candy bowl for a Butterfinger while standing in your neighbors' doorway, medical experts still advise trying to limit the number of people outside your household to whom you have exposure.

For every house you visit going door-to-door in your neighborhood, it heightens your risk of knocking on the door of someone who is contagious with the virus.

Enterprising community members are offering "drive-thru" trick-or-treating experiences in south Columbia County this year. Stop by the St. Helens Recreation Center at 1010 Old Portland Road from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, or the Scappoose Police Department at 33568 E. Columbia Ave. from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., to show off costumes and pick up some candy. It's a good, safer alternative to traditional trick-or-treating this year.

For maximum safety and peace of mind, consider having your own trick-or-treating experience at home. Set up rooms or areas in your home as trick-or-treating "stations," each with a bowl of goodies for the kids and maybe some spooky décor. You might be surprised just how fun it is to get in the spirit of playing pretend, too.

Party it up on Zoom

Using Zoom and other videoconferencing software to simulate face-to-face contact with other people is one of the tricks we have learned in 2020. But instead of just using these programs for work calls and meetings, treat yourself to some more enjoyable, creative social interactions with friends and family by holding a "Zoom party."

It's not safe to gather in large numbers, especially indoors. Here in Columbia County, we're under Phase 2 of the three-tiered reopening plan, which gives some of our businesses a little more leeway to operate and loosens the capacity restriction for outdoor gatherings. But state guidance still caps the maximum capacity for an indoor social get-together at 10 people, and medical experts warn that the more people are present in a space, the greater the risk that at least one attendee will bring the virus with them.

So instead of throwing your customary Halloween bash, suggest that your buddies might like to drink punch, play games and tell ghost stories on a videocall instead. There's no limit on how many people can join in, so have as big a party as you want — while everyone remains in the safety and comfort of their own living space.

Stay in and watch movies

No kids at home? No parties to attend? Just a little too old to go trick-or-treating yourself?

It's not just a pandemic phenomenon. Lots of grownups mark Halloween with the time-honored tradition of cozying up on the couch and watching movies or television. Why do anything different this year?

One nice thing about 2020 is that our range of streaming services is bigger than ever before, with the arrival of Disney+ last November, HBO Max in May and Peacock in July. In other words, there are fewer reasons to leave home at a time it's smart for just about all of us to be minimizing the time we spend out and about.

So, do what you were going to do this Halloween anyway: Stay in, snuggle up with your significant other (or don't!), watch a movie, and shout at the characters for making poor choices.


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