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Alaska Life

With Halloween traditions riskier this year, Alaskans look for creative ways to celebrate the season

A pumpkin wearing a face mask is placed on the porch of Alaska Backpackers Inn on Eagle Street for decoration in Anchorage on Oct. 8, 2020. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

Thirteen-year-old Elliot Welch in Juneau has been keeping himself busy lately constructing a zip line at his house. It’s decorated as a ghost, glows and runs all the way from his upstairs bedroom window to his mailbox.

It’s not just any zip line: It’s a candy zip line, designed to deliver treats to children this Halloween.

The project started as a homework assignment, said Elliot’s mother, Dawn Welch. “Then we were hearing ideas coming up about creative ways to deliver candy and we said, ‘Maybe you should go even bigger,’” Welch said.

Ghost zipline for 2020 Halloween in Juneau.

The Welches aren’t the only ones thinking about Halloween workarounds. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has released its recommendations for celebrating Halloween.

The pandemic has made many traditions high-risk, according to DHSS. Indoor haunted houses and costume parties are not recommended. Trick-or-treating is tricky. Children and parents are advised to wear face coverings — and no, Halloween costume masks don’t count.

Writing in the newsletter, Dr. Elizabeth Ohlsen, a family physician with DHSS, encouraged families to find creative ways to keep the holiday both fun and safe.

“It’s a great year to decorate. It’s a great year to share holiday greetings from a distance,” Ohlsen wrote in a DHSS newsletter.

But when it comes to trick-or-treating, “it’s not a great year to ring a doorbell or hand out treats from your doorstep,” Ohlsen wrote.

Other suggested activities: dressing up in costume and carving pumpkins at home; virtual Halloween parties; and hiding treats around the house or the yard for young family members to find. Trick-or-treating may even work — with some creative thinking.

Halloween decorations in Eagle River on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN)

‘How do I give candy from a distance?’

If your family chooses to trick-or-treat, these are changes recommended by the DHSS: Children should trick-or-treat only with family members, not with friends or people outside their household. Everyone should wear a face covering — a costume mask doesn’t count, unless it happens to be made of two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers the mouth and nose and doesn’t leave gaps around your face. Families should visit houses that are prepared to deliver treats at a distance, not from the doorstep.

Anchorage resident RJ Valdez says he was inspired to try something new after reading the recommendations early in October.

“That got me thinking about different and creative ways to give candy to trick-or-treaters this Halloween. … I didn’t really want people walking up to my door, so I had this question: ‘How do I give candy from a distance?’” Valdez said.

Valdez is considering running a rope from his bedroom balcony to the end of his driveway as a way of transporting candy, but says he’s still weighing his options.

Instead of having trick-or-treaters knocking at her door, Valdez resident Priscilla Perdomo-Malarney is planning on having a Halloween hunt in her yard. She’s going to fill sandwich bags with candy and hide them in her flower beds and trees. Usually, Perdomo-Malarney doesn’t get too many trick-or-treaters, but she’s excited to see how people think outside of the box this year.

Halloween "is like a safe, little celebration — you really don’t have to go out of your way that much,” Perdomo-Malarney said. “You can celebrate outside, you can go to people’s houses without going inside. … You could actually make it safe and normal.”

Candy chutes — long tubes that send candy down a banister or other incline to trick-or-treaters waiting at the bottom — have also been gaining traction after the idea went viral on Facebook.

A spooky decoration is placed under a tree at the Alaska Botanical Garden on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. The garden has decorated the paths with halloween-themed displays that will be up through October 24. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

‘How can we do those traditions in a way that is still safe?’

Hillary Walker, a professional counselor working in an Anchorage private practice, says there is value in keeping up Halloween traditions, like dressing in costumes and carving pumpkins. Even though it’s different this year, families can still have fun.

“I think the most important thing is when grown-ups are talking through things with kids, explaining what is going on and talking through what is going to happen, maybe getting kids engaged in creating some new tradition,” Walker said.

Walker says it’s important to validate any feelings children might have about the holidays looking different this year.

“All of those traditions are really important. They give us meaning, they give us something to look forward to,” Walker said. “It’s all about balance, I guess. How can we do those traditions in a way that is still safe?”

Health guidelines for Halloween

In its recommendations, the state of Alaska refers to official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designating lower-, moderate- and higher-risk Halloween activities.

Higher risk: Traditional trick-or-treating with treats handed to children at the door; trunk-or-treat events where candy is given from the trunks of cars outside; attending crowded indoor costume parties; going to indoor haunted houses; riding on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household; and traveling to fall festivals outside of your community.

Moderate risk: “One-way” trick-or-treating (where individual goodie bags are available for families to grab and go); attending a costume party or costume parade outdoors; having an outdoor movie night; and visiting pumpkin patches and orchards. If screaming is occurring, greater social distancing is advised, officials write.

Lower risk: Carving and decorating pumpkins inside with members of your household or outside at a safe distance with neighbors and friends; decorating your living space; participating in a scavenger hunt with household members; and participating in a virtual costume contest.

Other recommendations

• Don’t substitute a costume Halloween mask for your face covering unless it is made of two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers your mouth and nose and doesn’t leave gaps around your face.

• The CDC advises against wearing a costume mask over a cloth mask because it can be dangerous if the costume mask makes it hard to breathe. Instead, consider using a Halloween-themed cloth mask.

• Thoroughly wash or sanitize your hands before touching any treats you give to people outside your household. Distribute only treats in wrappers, and nothing homemade.

• If you or a family member has COVID-19 or if you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, don’t participate in in-person Halloween celebrations or trick-or-treat, and don’t hand out treats to children.

Some Halloween events in Anchorage

Note: Families should use their best judgment in light of CDC guidelines and recommendations from the State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services when deciding whether to attend a public event. If you have questions about the safety protocols in place for an event, research it in advance or reach out to the organizers or venue. The CDC advises maintaining 6 feet of distance from people outside your household, wearing a mask and frequent hand washing to prevent community spread of the coronavirus. See the CDC’s full guidelines at cdc.gov.

Trick or Treat Street — Join the Anchorage Downtown Partnership with this free celebration all October, featuring a virtual costume contest and a monthlong scavenger hunt. Post a picture in a costume with the hashtag #TrickORTreatSTREETanc for a chance to win gift cards to downtown shops. Participating businesses will provide window art and displays with clues for the scavenger hunt throughout the month, and it will all culminate in a Halloween Day event including scary critters at the Visit Anchorage Log Cabin, hot chocolate and cider, and more. Free. Oct. 1-31. Various locations. See anchoragedowntown.org for details and a scavenger map. OCT. 29 UPDATE: The event on Saturday, Oct. 31, has been canceled.

Frightening 4K — Join Skinny Raven for the ninth year of this costumed, 4-kilometer run. This year’s race will be capped at 1,100 participants. Registration ends Oct. 31. The course will start and finish at the Chuck Albrecht Ball Field complex and run along a spooky course through the Campbell Creek Trail toward Lake Otis and back. $35-$45. 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 31. Captain Cook Hotel, 939 W. Fifth Ave. See skinnyraven.com for details.

Halloween Virtual Scavenger Hunt — Choose your own adventure in this virtual, 24-hour scavenger hunt in the Anchorage area. Answer trivia questions, complete quests and take selfies while competing for prizes. $25-$100, with proceeds benefiting Junior Achievement of Alaska’s statewide K-12 programs. Saturday, Oct. 31. Various locations. See myalaskatix.com for details.

Halloween at the Alaska Aviation Museum — Dress in costume and see the museum’s decorated hangars. Masks will be required at all times and social distancing of 6 feet required between visitors as they go through the exhibits. Tickets available at the front desk or by calling 907-248-5325. $8-$14. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31. Alaska Aviation Museum, 4721 Aircraft Drive. See Facebook for details.

Dracula — Watch a virtual ballet recital full of vampires hosted by the Anchorage Classical Ballet Academy and based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel. $30. 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30. Online. Find details on Facebook.

Malloween — The Dimond Center mall has daily opportunities for trick-or-treating. Bags can be picked up at the mall’s info desk and participants, anyone 15 and under, must be wearing a costume. Take a photo of your attire at the selfie station for a chance to win gift cards, a family fun pack and more. Everyone entering the mall will be required to wear a mask (if you forget, they have some to give out at the customer service desk). Free. 12-7 p.m. Oct. 17-31. Dimond Center, 800 E. Dimond Blvd. See dimondcenter.com for details.

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