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Halloween looks different this year as trick-or-treating deemed high-risk activity

PMG PHOTO - As a COVID-19 safe alternative to the traditional Halloween festivities, the city of West Linn hosted a Boo Drive Thru Oct. 17. With festivities like haunted houses and masked youngsters roaming the streets normally fostering a spooky but safe atmosphere for families, Halloween 2020 presents a more serious fear for local residents and organizations — the possibility of spreading COVID-19.

In turn, parents, governments and local groups that normally celebrate Halloween are rethinking how to do so while keeping everyone safe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Oregon Health Authority have released guidelines to the public, listing trick-or-treating as a "high-risk" activity this holiday season.

While the cities of Lake Oswego, West Linn and Wilsonville have not banned trick-or-treating, they are following CDC and OHA guidelines and encouraging the public to be as safe as possible.

"Different people are doing different things," said Jamie Inglis, event supervisor for Lake Oswego's Parks and Recreation Department. "We're encouraging everyone to follow OHA guidance, which does list trick-or-treating as high-risk … It's not recommended."

OHA released a chart that shows people how to protect against COVID-19 this Halloween. Staying home with members of your household and participating in activities like online parties, costume contests, home decoration, carving pumpkins and touring local Halloween yard and home displays are considered low-risk. Moderate-risk activities including pumpkin patches, an outdoor movie night following COVID-19 safety precautions and attending a haunted forest walk that implements safety measures. Activities that people might opt to do this Halloween that are considered high-risk include indoor and outdoor gatherings with non-household members, haunted houses or other entertainment, trick-or-treating and hayrides with non-household members.

"People need to see that and take it seriously when considering how to celebrate," said Bill Evans, the city of Wilsonville communications and marketing manager.

What parents are thinking

With local governments taking an advisory approach, parents must make the final call. Every year, Wilsonville resident Jeremy Summers and his family decorate their home with spider webs, tombstones, skulls and other Halloween embellishments, and host a party where hundreds stop by throughout the evening. This year he's canceled the party but his house is still fully decorated, and he's planning to move forward with his annual show where he dresses up as a monster in front of the house while a light display and music add to the ominous ambiance. Onlookers can view the show from the street.

"It looks like a scene from a Halloween movie ," Summers said.

Meanwhile, he is allowing his kids to go trick-or-treating while wearing masks and gloves and is handing out candy to kids through a six-foot-long pipe. They'll wear masks and gloves as well when sliding the candy into bags. After his kids are done collecting goodies, he said they'll store it for 72 hours to make sure the virus hasn't lingered.

Summers never considered canceling Halloween festivities altogether.

"With the schools being distance learning and the socialization part not happening, this is a very important moment in time for us so the kids can have an opportunity to see each other, smile at one another and be with one another. That engagement part is so critical," he said.

Wilsonville resident Carrie Keith is equally enthusiastic about the holiday, normally setting up a haunted house in their three-car garage to go along with fog machines and a graveyard outside, and Halloween decor inside her home.

But, instead of trick-or-treating, her kids will watch a scary movie with close friends who are a part of their quarantine circle. She felt even if parents just leave candy out for kids to grab, many people touching the same bag of candy could pose a risk. She also didn't decorate her home so as not to attract potential trick-or-treaters.

This isn't the Halloween Keith envisioned. But she felt treating Halloween, 2020 like its predessesors wasn't worth the risk.

"I think it's necessary. But it was a really hard decision for me personally," she said. "Whenever anyone asks me about it I tell them I'm pouting. I pretty much am. I want to do that stuff. It really makes me happy. I don't feel comfortable doing any of that this year. I don't want to expose my family or anyone else's family in the off chance."

Lake Oswego local Jennifer Dale and her family love Halloween. And their neighbors are no different. When they first moved into their neighborhood Dale recalls calling it a "trick-or-treat street."

"This is just a great neighborhood to trick-or-treat in," she said.

She said in past years all the neighborhood kids would eat pizza together before heading out to trick-or-treat as a group.

"All the kids are right around the same age," she said.

Everyone would dress up and decorate their houses.

In past years the Dales have turned their front yard into a graveyard with tombstones and spider webs.

"Some of the people on our street, they go all out," she said.

Dale's neighborhood, one that always holds events for holidays, had to get creative this year due to state guidance discouraging trick-or-treating.

Dale's neighborhood won't be trick-or-treating in the traditional sense but the kids will still get their fair share of candy.

The neighborhood is hosting a parade that children can dress up to participate in. Dale said everyone will wear masks.

Dale also said some homes, including her own, are putting together prepackaged goodie bags that children can get in a contactless way on the front steps of houses.

"I think it's really important that we're really careful," she said.

For people who do opt to go out and about on Halloween, the CDC released some tips to make trick-or-treating safer like staying outside, wearing a mask and avoiding direct contact with others.

For more information on safety tips, click here.

Community leaders present alternatives

Inglis said state guidance is what led the city to create the Monster Mash Drive-Thru Spooktacular where treats will be prepared to OHA restaurant guidance and handed out at stations hosted by Parks and Recreation, Lake Oswego Public Library, the Westlake Fire Station and the Lake Oswego Police Department. People are encouraged to dress in costume and decorate their vehicles.

"It's a great way to celebrate and still connect with the community," said Inglis, adding that she's heard of folks who are planning on pre-bagging treats for kids or providing treats on tables in specific neighborhoods for youth.

The City of West Linn hosted a similar event, a Boo Drive Thru, as a safer alternative to the traditional Halloween festivities. The event, which took place Oct. 17 at the West Linn Adult Community Center, attracted over 1,400 residents, though they all stayed in their own cars.

"People and especially children need some light, laughter and fun right now," said West Linn Parks and Recreation Special Events Coordinator Dawn Kolb. "It truly inspired me, the parks and rec staff and volunteers who were there."

West Linn's Historic Willamette Main Street, which typically hosts trick-or-treaters Halloween afternoon, is also altering plans this year.

Rather than having Main Street businesses pass out candy to trick-or-treaters, the businesses will participate in a pumpkin carving competition. Community members will then vote on their favorite pumpkin.

"Because of the phase that we're in right now around coronavirus restrictions, we're not allowed to have any events that are over 25 people, so we just weren't able to host the event," said Historic Willamette Main Street Executive Director Rebecca Hollenbeck.


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