The treats haven’t changed, but it’s a much trickier world out there this fall. Look no further than the potential swapping of microscopic breath particles as people open their doors, shriek with fake fright and distribute candy to gasping, giggling youngsters.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against traditional trick-or-treating for Halloween this year, calling face-to-face candy collection a “higher-risk” activity for spreading the coronavirus. State and local health officials are saying the same thing.
“Some of the typical ways people celebrate Halloween, such as costume parties, trunk-or-treat events and big groups of trick-or-treaters, are also the scenarios with the highest risk for virus transmission,” said Clark County Public Health spokeswoman Marissa Armstrong.
Lower-risk activities endorsed by public health authorities include staying home and watching scary movies or carving pumpkins with members of your household, connecting with costumed friends online or going on a physically distanced tour of neighborhood haunts.
“Our lights will be out and we will not be handing out candy,” said Meghan Hodges of Vancouver. She said her 4-year-old daughter cares less about trick-or-treating than about transforming into a flamingo.
“We could be knocking on doors of people who never wear a mask, or are vulnerable and we could be exposing them,” Hodges said. “This year we will do a Halloween movie party and a pinata. When I told her this was the plan instead of trick or treating, she was so excited that she would get to do her own pinata and still get a bunch of candy.”
Holly Demarais of Vancouver and Cory Marshall of Camas have made conscientious plans to deliver Halloween sweets to visitors from a safe distance. (The CDC considers such efforts to be “moderate risk.”)
“I’m setting up a table of pre-made gift bags with candy,” Demarais wrote in response to an inquiry The Columbian posted on Facebook. “No contact, they just grab one off the table. I’m opening my garage to see their costumes from a distance.”
Marshall, who teaches science at Camas Middle School, is getting a little fancier. He hatched the idea of a driveway candy ramp when playing with sons Henry, 3, and Jack, 1. A big Halloween fan who always decorates his front yard, Marshall realized he already had the equipment he needed to provide safe Halloween sweetness for neighborhood kids: plastic Hot Wheels racetrack sections that serve as a handy candy slide. It’s a nice coincidence that the tracks happen to be Halloween orange.
“The whole point is really to be entertaining,” Marshall said.
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups tend to jump the side of the ramp. That’s because they’re asymmetrical and top-heavy, explained the science teacher, adding that he’ll try to find candies that fit the slot better and don’t fly loose. (When 3-year-old Henry Marshall stepped up to test the receiving end of the ramp, one Reese’s sped straight down and smacked him in the face. It could have been a tragic moment, but Henry just laughed.)
Marshall said he’s no virus denier, but figures if restaurants can safely deliver sushi to his door, he can safely deliver candy to local kids.
“Do we scrap the whole thing, or do we find a middle road? This is a way people can get candy and also get respected,” he said.
At the far end of the complexity spectrum is Jim Mains and his annual west Vancouver Halloween extravaganza. Mains and his wife, Ceci, have spent months planning a special landscape featuring yard decorations, lights and spooky music, he said. The display is up and running every night from 6 to 9 p.m. through Halloween at 4616 N.W. Franklin St.
To accommodate thousands of expected visitors, the Mainses plan two nights of trick-or-treating. Oct. 30 will be a drive-by event with ghoulish actors approaching your car to frighten you from a proper distance. Halloween night, Oct. 31, will see those actors confined behind barriers as visitors approach on foot.
A 20-foot-long candy chute will delivery treats. Mains has even gone to the trouble of installing 6-foot distance markers on the ground.
It’s all to maintain normalcy in the neighborhood, he said. If things look likely to get too crowded, he’ll change the plan, so check www.Facebook.com/holidaysonfranklin for updates.
Other moderate-risk Halloween activities include outdoor, physically distanced costume parades and scary movie screenings. But if moviegoers are bound to scream, the CDC urges, spread them farther apart than 6 feet.
Some local families insist they’ll make their usual Halloween rounds, undaunted.
“It seems like a lot of folks are planning on opening their doors to trick-or-treaters,” wrote Kimi Earls. “Our girls will be allowed to trick or treat! It seems minimally risky, considering all the other activities people are participating in.”
No surprise that trick-or-treating even rises to the level of a political statement for at least a few parents who like costume masks on children, but dislike protective face masks on principle.
“No government is going to tell me what activities my children can and can’t be a part of,” wrote Koko Williams.
Experts say if you must go trick-or-treating in the traditional way, enforce the usual virus precautions, including keeping kids from different households at least 6 feet apart and making sure all wear protective face masks. While costume masks are already built into many Halloween outfits, they usually let breath flow freely from nose and mouth holes, so they’re useless when it comes to blocking virus transmission.
Don’t be surprised if this year’s top costume is a heroic health care professional who’s masked up as can be.