Halloween 2020: A different kind of mask, but just as scary this year

(Video by Abigail Vaerewyck/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – When health officials said Arizona residents could enjoy trick-or-treating this year if they found “various creative ways” to distribute candy during a pandemic, they may not have had Timothy Landis-level creativity in mind.

The Litchfield Park resident has modified his annual pirate ship display to include a “candy chute,” which pretend pirates on board will use to slide candy “down the 10-foot mast to waiting scalawags below.”

“I’ve always loved Halloween. Halloween has always been my thing since I was a kid – back when they did a haunted house in my school gym,” said Landis, who’s also trimmed the number of friends manning the ship to a handful this year to allow for social distancing.

That’s just one way that true Halloween enthusiasts are adapting the holiday to state and local guidelines for celebrating safely in the face of COVID-19.

“It’s absolutely perfect for people to spend time with those who they love and friends,” Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said earlier this month. “Just make sure you’re wearing a mask.”

The health department guidelines mirror those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: wear a mask in public, keep at least 6 feet from others, stay home if sick and stay home as much as possible when a family member tests positive for COVID-19. The guidelines also encourage people to avoid social settings with more than 10 people, to limit contact with people from outside the household and to frequently wash hands.

Even with the precautions and restrictions, Halloween aficionados are confident they can adapt everything from trick-or-treating to attractions like haunted houses.

“A lot of the home haunters, the people who just decorate their houses, they’re actually stepping up their displays,” said Jim Transue, a Phoenix-based Halloween enthusiast with AZ Haunters, a statewide club.

Litchfield Park resident Timothy Landis has modified his annual Halloween pirate ship with a candy chute, a 10-foot tube on the right, to deliver candy to trick-or-treaters from a COVID-safe distance. (Photo courtesy Timothy Landis)

“Most of them are not doing walk-throughs – where you would go and actually walk through the haunted house with actors and stuff – they’re just doing a bigger display where people can come by and see the display in the yard from the driveway,” Transue said.

Katrina Manis, assistant manager for UZA MysCreation Haunted Attraction and member of AZ Haunters, said her “haunt” is strictly following public health guidelines.

Manis said her actors and customers both are required to wear masks at all times, get temperature checks at the start of the day or start of the attraction and have hand sanitizer readily available. The haunt has also reduced capacity.

But Manis said the health and safety of her grandchildren while they go trick-or-treating is “at the forefront of my mind.”

“I’m definitely worried because of my two granddaughters. One turned 9 today and the other turned 5 a couple of weeks ago, and the 9-year-old just finally went back to school last week for in-person learning,” Manis said.

But health experts said there’s no reason to worry if trick-or-treaters are wearing cloth masks and the candy is handed out at a distance.

“We’re making recommendations so that people celebrate Halloween safely, and that can include trick-or-treating,” Christ said.

Dr. Elizabeth McKenna, a pediatric specialist with the Arizona chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said it can be as simple as wearing a cloth mask at all times when celebrating.

“If someone has a plastic mask as part of a costume, the cloth mask should go over the mouth and nose, under the plastic costume, to reduce respiratory droplets as much as possible,” McKenna said.

Christ said traditions don’t need to be abandoned this year, only adjusted.

“What we would encourage is that parents talk to their little ones before they go out trick or treating, make sure that they’re wearing a mask,” she said.

She also said homeowners can help by avoiding close contact with others while handing out treats.

“If you are passing out candy, there are various creative ways that you can do that. You can set out prepared bags so that there doesn’t need to be any interaction, you can pass it from a distance, you can mark 6 feet off, away from your front door, so people know to stay back,” Christ said.

Health officials say there’s no reason people cannot enjoy Halloween this year, as long as they make modifications, including mask-wearing and maintaining a safe distance at parties or when handing out candy. (Photo by Cory Doctorow/Creative Commons)

While he has seen others in the AZ Haunters club take precautions seriously, Transue said he is not personally worried about contracting COVID-19. Transue, who already went to one Halloween party last week, said he plans to go to another this weekend, with both parties held outdoors.

“I saw hand sanitizer everywhere, but a party is a party,” Transue said. “They’re outdoors because we get to do that here in the Valley – if you want to keep more distance, then that’s definitely open.”

But even outside, McKenna emphasized caution at any social gatherings.

“Doing things outside where you’re socially distanced, you’re wearing a mask, not touching other people, you’re washing your hands, those are a lot better,” McKenna said. “It could definitely be a super-spreader if people aren’t responsible.”

She said that while certain activities, such as indoor parties, should be avoided completely, there are still ways to celebrate a safe Halloween, including carving pumpkins, decorating and holding remote costume contests.

Manis agreed that the holiday can go on, with a little forethought.

“For people love to go out and enjoy the Halloween holiday, go ahead and do it, but plan it out first,” she said.

For Landis, now in his 10th Halloween of running his pirate-theme walk-through, there was no way he was going to let COVID-19 stop the tradition.

“Between kids in the neighborhood walking, and cars coming, and golf carts, we’ll make sure that we have people stationed so that we can keep our social distance and still maintain the spirit of Halloween because that’s what it’s really all about,” he said. “Keeping Halloween alive.”

News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Joycelyn Cabrera is an Arizona native who expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication and a minor in digital audiences. She is a digital reporter and producer at Cronkite News in Washington, D.C., and has reported for a nonprofit organization and local news outlets in Arizona.

News Reporter, Phoenix

Abigail Vaerewyck expects to graduate in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism and a certification in nonprofit leadership and management. Vaerewyck has been involved in several student organizations on ASU’s Tempe and Phoenix campuses.