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How To Halloween In A Pandemic

Two hands in white latex gloves hold a pumpkin with "covid-19" written in black marker over a black background.
Marco Verch

With Halloween this Saturday, local officials and families across Montana are trying to find ways of keeping the holiday fun while minimizing the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Halloween is a big deal for Whitefish. Large, raucous parties like this one at Casey’s two years ago draw in adult witches, zombies and pirates from across northwest Montana.

But this year, city officials are not scared of the boogey man. It’s large crowds they’re worried about as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.

Here’s Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld in a video announcing most parties will be capped at 10 people and bars will close an hour earlier than what’s currently allowed, measures the city is taking to try to slow the coronavirus’ spread.

“We know how much our visitors and citizens of all ages love Halloween in Whitefish, and we recognize the losses this may cause for Whitefish business owners," Muhlfeld said. "The intention is to prevent events on Halloween in Whitefish from becoming super spreaders.”

Crowded indoor parties and even traditional door-to-door trick or treating are listed as higher risk Halloween activities by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Stacey Anderson is the state’s lead communicable disease epidemiologist. She shared some recommendations from the CDC during a press call Tuesday.

“Obviously, we don’t want to have large Halloween parties with a lot of folks. Try to get creative. Have smaller groups. Have movie nights. Have a Zoom costume parade or costume contest. Try to think outside of the box for other activities that you can do to celebrate the holiday and still have fun while still keeping you and your loved ones safe," Anderson said.

Alanya Wissink in Missoula is organizing a small outdoor party this Saturday for her son’s homeschool pod of 3 to 5 year olds. It’ll include a costume parade, dance party and scavenger hunt.

“So right now I’m just cutting up some stickers that I’m going to put in these little plastic eggs here," Wissink said. "We’re going to hide them throughout our property and let the kids find them."

Instead of communal chips and dip, Wissink is planning self contained foods, like mandarin oranges decorated as jack-o’-lanterns.

“We decided amongst the parents that we did want to do an outside party. No one really felt comfortable being inside even though we are in a pod and pretty much the only interaction we have with other kids and families is with each other, but we wanted to really play it safe. So we thought doing a fun, outdoor afternoon Halloween party for the kids would be a perfect solution," Wissink said.

The CDC says outdoor, physically distanced activities with smaller groups of people are lower risk.

Moderate risk activities include one way trick or treating, which is individually wrapping goodie bags and putting them out for families to grab and go.

Kristin Tessman in Helena says, in previous years, she and her family would receive around 400 trick or treaters for Halloween.

“My husband goes all out. We probably have 10 inflatables in our yard right now. And lots of lights and fun stuff for the kids," Tessman said.

To maintain at least six feet of distance with trick or treaters, Tessman and her husband plan on attaching a PVC pipe to their hand railing to act as a candy chute. She says their kids probably won’t go trick or treating, but they’ll still wear costumes with face masks. For her daughter dressing up as a black cat, Tessman is painting whiskers and a nose on a black face mask.

“We just wanted to try and find some way to celebrate that was safe and was in accordance with what our local public health wanted us to do but also kind of honored the special moment for our children since these are the times that they would normally be making these memories anyways," she said.

State epidemiologist Anderson says kids older than two and adults should all wear face coverings when around people outside their households.

“Try to incorporate a mask into your costume. But we really don’t recommend that you wear a mask underneath your costume mask. That could make it a little difficult to breathe, obviously. A costume mask though is not a substitute for a cloth mask," Anderson said.

Evidence based health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses this time of year still apply: stay home if sick or asked to quarantine, wear a mask and limit time around people outside your household, wash your hands often and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.