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What will Halloween look like amid COVID pandemic?

Updated October 16, 2020 - 1:58 pm

The piñata in the living room serves dual purposes.

Dispenser of candy, object of pent-up frustrations: It’s two things in a singular whack.

Claire Davies bought it for her 11-year-old son, Cristiano.

It’s a new Halloween tradition that she hopes won’t become a tradition: Living in a high-risk household for the coronavirus with her elderly mother, Davies is skipping the usual Halloween activities in favor of indoor, stick-abetted alternatives.

“We’re just going to let him hit the piñata,” Davies says, “let him get his anger out that he’s not going trick-or-treating.”

And so it goes for Halloween 2020: In a year akin to someone tossing carrot sticks in your goody bag, the upcoming holiday underscores the uncertainty of the times.

What will Halloween even look like this season? Because of the pandemic, there are as many answers to that question as there are varieties of Skittles.

‘Like canceling Christmas’

For some Las Vegas residents, Halloween provides an opportunity to embrace the mood-enhancing familiarity of a time-honored holiday, a sort of comfort food — or candy, rather — for the psyche.

“How long has it been since the normal has gone away, six, seven months?” Joseph Cabrero asks. “I want something to go back to normal. Just one thing.

“We’re still going trick-or-treating,” he adds. “I’m not going to do anything differently unless the house we knock on says, ‘Please stand back’ or leaves candy at the front door.”

For mother of three Stacey Johnson, who lives in the Summerlin area, there will be minor tweaks to the festivities, such as wearing gloves and a face mask when handing out candy, but otherwise Halloween will proceed as usual for her family.

“It’s one of those things where I don’t know how I can really cancel the holiday for the kids,” she says. “I’m prepared to take precautions and do things like that, but I’m not prepared to cancel it for them. It would be like canceling Christmas.”

Still, plenty of parents are taking a more circumspect approach to their kids’ acquisition of miniature Snickers bars.

“Sadly, not trick-or-treating this year,” mom Karen Barlow Selke says. “Kids want to, badly, but we don’t feel comfortable. We will be heading to hang out with my immediate family and doing a scavenger hunt around the house and scary movies.”

Selke is not alone.

According to a survey by social media consulting firm Influence Central, more than half of families plan either to sit out Halloween entirely (22 percent) or to celebrate only with immediate family at home (34 percent). Another 13 percent will host a small gathering with a few friends to dress up and exchange candy.

“The caution nationally is really there,” Influence Central CEO Stacy DeBroff says. “It’s maybe not even people’s own concerns about their kids or themselves, but it’s out of respect for the community and out of caution. Some people are just concerned, ‘This doesn’t seem to be the year to be ringing strangers’ doorbells.’ ”

Is it safe?

While Halloween is normally full of make-believe scares, here’s a real-life one to contend with: the threat of spreading the coronavirus during the holiday season.

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited many Halloween traditions as higher-risk activities that should be avoided because of COVID-19 concerns, including trick-or-treating, trunk-or-treating, indoor costume parties and haunted house attractions.

While the city of Los Angeles banned trick-or-treating in early September before quickly reversing course, it doesn’t appear that there will be anything like that in Southern Nevada.

A representative from the city of Las Vegas says it has not received any Halloween guidelines from the governor’s office. Kathleen Richards, senior public information officer for the city of Henderson, reports that while Henderson Police patrol officers will not distribute candy to kids as they have in previous years, that’s the only change in the run-up to the holiday so far.

The emphasis, then, is on minimizing risk.

“With the appropriate guidance from the CDC and state and local health departments, we can prioritize safety and public health while at the same time allowing families across the country to celebrate Halloween during October,” says Dr. Stephen Ostroff, who once served as the Food and Drug Administration’s deputy commissioner and chief scientist and as the deputy director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases at the CDC. “Surveys have shown that most parents want their kids to celebrate Halloween. Therefore, the more appropriate question is not whether to celebrate Halloween, but how can we make it as safe as possible for everyone?”

“The safest experience would be to trick or treat only with family members,” says Dr. Rand McClain, chief medical officer of California-based health care company LCR Health. “If traveling door to door in a neighborhood with friends, keep appropriate masks on and maintain sufficient distance within the group. If trick-or-treating with friends, travel to the neighborhood in separate cars, if possible. Obviously, selecting costumes that utilize appropriate masks would be ideal and perhaps stimulate creativity. ”

When it comes to handing out treats, McClain says there are basic steps to take.

“Certainly, leaving candy out avoids contact, but also a lot of the fun,” he says. “When greeting trick-or-treaters, step outside in the fresh air to greet them and pass out candy. To be extra careful, candy obtained trick-or-treating should be limited to commercially manufactured and wrapped, rather than homemade treats and, once unwrapped, eaten with washed hands.”

Getting creative

There was just one problem when attempting to construct a candy chute shaped like a ralphing skeleton: The PVC pipe wasn’t big enough for a full-sized Kit Kat bar to slide down.

Time to head back to Lowe’s.

“I’m going to have to go with plumbing piping,” explains Audrey Romero, a mother of three who lives in the Providence neighborhood. “I’m trying to figure out how to make a skull face at the end of it so it looks like the skull is throwing up candy.”

Romero’s efforts are indicative of the prevailing sentiment of the coronavirus era: the need for adaptation.

Both she and her husband have high-risk jobs — he’s in law enforcement; she works in the medical field — and have taken coronavirus protocols seriously, Romero says.

“I’m huge pro-mask. We haven’t had anybody over; we haven’t gone anywhere,” she notes. “With that being said, Halloween is one of those holidays that I don’t see why you can’t partake in. It’s outdoors. There’s no reason why you can’t walk around with family members while you’re trick-or-treating.”

Another local parent building a candy chute, Jacque George, echoes Romero’s outlook.

“We had debated on going forward with our traditions. However, in the end, my 8-year-old’s passion and persistence won us over,” he says. “Our kids have gone through so much change; it’s important to keep some normality.”

Normality with a twist, that is, for many.

“We plan to let those handing out candy/treats drop it into our kids’ bags instead of them touching it,” mom Kayla Novotny says. “We’ll wipe the outsides/wrappers down with Clorox wipes and we’ll probably let it sit in the garage for a day or so to ‘quarantine’ it.”

Others are eschewing trick-or-treating for a different spin on Halloween, such as Easter-style candy scavenger hunts, a seemingly popular alternative.

“We are having the Great Pumpkin visit our house this year,” Theresa Labus Grayson says. “He will be hiding candy in the backyard for the kids to find, kind of like the Easter Bunny does.”

That’s the thing about Halloween: It’s posited on creativity and, oftentimes, a do-it-yourself ethos.

In a year when so many have had to embrace that mentality — be it telecommuting for work or hosting Zoom happy hours — the stage has been set for a holiday season that reflects as much.

“That DIY element that has been a constant trend throughout quarantine I think will definitely be a steady trend that we see around Halloween,” says Rigo Vieza of Signals Analytics, an advanced analytics platform whose research includes Halloween-related topics. “Whether it’s choosing a costume, whether it’s trick-or-treating, whether it’s enjoying different parties of some sort, I think we might start to see DIY-type of approaches to things that maybe we haven’t seen before.”

Partying on?

Alas, the fire-breathers will be taking the year off.

As for Halloween parties that traditionally have been held here, the Fetish and Fantasy Halloween Ball at the Hard Rock Hotel — one of the biggest, which has drawn 5,000 people in recent years, has been bumped to 2021 — and with it, the aforementioned, flame-enhanced performers.

Mikey “DJ Mikey VIP” Porter, who’s been throwing the popular, hip-hop-themed Devil’s Nyte party for over a decade now at venues ranging from Beauty Bar to Ninja Karaoke, is putting together a podcast featuring past performers instead of hosting a live event this year.

But others are pushing forward.

Lola Rose, who has put together The Everything ’80s Meet-up Halloween Thriller Costume Party for 10 years, is planning on having the event at the Artisan this year, though with a DJ instead of a live band and with reduced capacity.

“The expected attendance is going to be a lot less,” she says. “There’s a lot of things that we’re doing differently. It’s thrilling to know that we’re going to go forward for the 11th year in a row, but to have all these restrictions is kind of sad.”

Then again, Halloween is all about the unexpected. And what has been more unexpected than the events of 2020?

“We have to change our mentality,” Romero says of moving forward with Halloween. “The important thing is to try and still get out of the house and do somewhat normal things. That’s what life is: finding the new normal.”

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter or @Jbracelin76 on Instagram.

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