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Neighborhoods free to reimagine Halloween as APH lays out recommendations

Tuesday, October 27, 2020 by Jasmine Lopez

Austin neighborhoods are working to reimagine Halloween, with families and households strategizing how to balance safety and fun in an effort to preserve the spooky holiday amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Austin Public Health issued a statement Oct. 9 regarding recommendations for celebrating Halloween this year. The recommendations are intended to help parents of young children and households distributing candy decide whether and how they want to participate in Halloween festivities.

Households across Austin have tried to come up with ways to preserve the fun of Halloween in ways that won’t risk spreading the virus. On NextDoor and in Facebook groups, residents have discussed a variety of ways to safely trick-or-treat.

Claire Saldana of the Del Valle community said while she participates in distributing candy every year, the pandemic has her reconsidering distribution plans, not only for the health of her household, but for trick-or-treaters.

“We’re trying to figure out a way to pass (candy) out without really having everybody’s hand in the same pot,” Saldana said. “One of the things that we thought about was basically doing it almost if it were a kid’s birthday, and doing candy bags.”

If families choose to participate in going door to door, APH recommends restricting trick-or-treating groups to household members, wearing a face mask and maintaining 6 feet from other groups of trick-or-treaters. It’s also wise to avoid approaching doors until the last group of trick-or-treaters has finished and using hand sanitizer between houses.

Cody Pileski of the Travis Country West neighborhood is a school principal who decided toward the end of September to decorate his yard for Halloween in a kid-friendly manner, and encouraged his neighbors via NextDoor to join him in decorating their yards.

“As soon as I did that, kids started knocking on my door and stopping in front of the yard,” Pileski said. “They just had this excitement that started to come back that I wasn’t (seeing) through the summer and as school started.”

Pileski has packaged Halloween goody bags with candy, stickers, temporary tattoos, cheese puffs and healthy snacks. Pileski said the goody bags, which have been ready to go since the end of September, were made up before the health department had issued any statements about Halloween.

Natalie Cameron of Southwest Austin said her family will be going trick-or-treating this year. Her daughter planned her costume around safety, and is going as a ninja to incorporate a mask and gloves into her costume.

“We are leaving a tray of full-sized individually wrapped candy on our doorstep so that kids can choose one without touching the others,” Cameron said. “We are also leaving a dispenser of Purell for people that feel more comfortable using hand sanitizer between houses.”

Nancy Nicholas of Southwest Austin has two elementary school-aged children, but said her household does not plan on participating in traditional trick-or-treating this year. Instead, her neighborhood organized a parade as an alternative.

“We’re calling it a reverse trick-or-treating spree,” Nicholas said. “The kids will still get plenty of treats and have somewhere to walk to in the neighborhood, but everybody can space out and be a good distance from each other.”

Many families are choosing to abstain from trick-or-treating this year. Deepti Bellur’s 7-year-old son has been trick-or-treating since the age of 3, but the pandemic has disrupted that tradition this year.

Bellur said the logistics of her child keeping a mask on coupled with the uncertainty of whether others would be wearing masks contributed to her family’s decision to abstain from trick-or-treating in an effort to limit exposure.

“It just seemed like it was going to be more work than it was worth,” Bellur said. “Instead we’re going to dress up, sit outside our garage and have candy for anyone who wants to come; that way we’re still participating in the spirit of the season.”

Bellur acknowledged that her stance on trick-or-treating is on the stricter side, but doesn’t want to compromise on safety.

“I’m a scientist and I can’t ignore the science. It doesn’t make any sense to do that. It’s just not worth the additional risk this year to do that,” Bellur said.

APH has categorized activities into low-, medium- and high-risk, with traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating categorized as high-risk. The health department suggests low-risk activities like carving pumpkins with members of your own household, decorating your living area or having virtual gatherings. Medium-risk activities include lining up goody bags in driveways, attending an outdoor costume party and going to a pumpkin patch while using hand sanitizer.

According to Alina Carnahan, a city spokesperson, the recommendations are meant to give additional context to the community when seeking guidance about specific activities.

“They are based on CDC guidance and are framed as recommendations to ensure that families can balance holiday traditions with Covid-19 safety,” Carnahan said.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

This story was written by a journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin. The Austin Monitor is working in partnership with the UT School of Journalism to teach and publish stories produced by students in the City and County Government Reporting course.

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