As Coloradans look to an uncertain Halloween, COVID-19 looms as season’s biggest scare – The Denver Post

Juniper Koelliker’s daydreams of a final, blowout year of trick-or-treating in 2020 deflated like a rotting pumpkin when the 13-year-old realized the pandemic would disrupt lives longer than first anticipated.

The Denver teenager lives for the costumes, candy and spooky vibes customary with any Halloween that’s up to snuff. But Juniper, like many in Colorado, is bracing for a tricky year for tricks and treats.

Most state public health officials say it’s too early to conjure predictions about what will come of Halloween, but a holiday season that culminates in visiting as many strangers as possible in one night is sure to look different during the COVID-19 era as social-distancing continues to reign supreme.

“It might not be until mid-October that we know more about what Halloween will look like in Denver,” said Tammy Vigil, spokeswoman for the Denver Department of Public Health. “It’s possible we may have to re-examine traditional Halloween gatherings and events based on the data presented closer to that time. So for now, we ask that the community keeps doing what it’s doing, and stay vigilant to help keep the virus in check.”

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment did not have Halloween-specific guidance to share yet, but pointed to its standing guidelines for holidays and celebrations, which say Coloradans should wear masks; gather in groups of 10 people or fewer, preferably outside; stay six feet apart from others; avoid risky activities that could lead to exposure; and follow all COVID-19 guidelines.

Some health agencies have been more stringent. In Los Angeles last week, county health officials issued guidance banning trick-or-treating, but then quickly walked that ban back to a suggestion that trick-or-treating and other Halloween activities such as haunted houses were not recommended, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Juniper and her mom Jenn Koelliker have decided on their own that Juniper’s final year of trick-or-treating has likely met its untimely demise.

“You’d be very high risk taking stuff from random people’s houses,” Juniper said. “People are making the argument that you wear masks anyway for Halloween, but I doubt a lot of kids will want to wear a mask with their costume if they’re not already wearing one. Maybe everyone will wear that ‘Scream’ mask this year.”

Party retailers like Oriental Trading Company are touting low contact trick-or-treating merchandise including driveway treat kits filled with themed table decorations, goodies and cups. The accessories are intended to top a decked-out table in the front yard, where trick-or-treaters can swing by and pick up their loot without ever having to step foot near somebody’s front door or dunk a candy-coated hand in a communal grab bag.

Juniper plans on going all out on decorations this year — pumpkins and spider webs galore — and hopes to keep her bedroom Halloween-y until Christmas, allowing time for the macabre majesty to fully soak in.

“I love everything about Halloween,” Juniper said, adding that her everyday style is Halloween-inspired from wild hair colors and dark clothing to tons of jewelry. “The divide between kids that is usually there is gone around that time of year. You can’t make fun of somebody for dressing up for Halloween. Everybody has kind of leveled out on the same playing field.”

“So bummed”

Juniper isn’t the only kid mourning a COVID-19 Halloween.

Not only did the new coronavirus cut short Boulder High School’s spring production of the spooktacular “Addams Family” musical, but the boys and ghouls of Boulder High’s theater department have temporarily laid to rest their annual haunted house.

The haunted house, 13 years strong, transformed the school’s stage into an attraction filled with jump scares, chilling props and student actors who promised an experience that stacked up with big-name haunted mazes in the area. This year, Boulder High theater teacher Marlee Smith said the crew couldn’t figure out how to whittle themselves down from the typical 100-student operation to something that would fit public health guidance, not to mention how to regulate guest attendance safely.

“They’re so bummed,” said Rachel Zaring, theater teacher, when asked how her students were taking the news. “We were getting emails from them in May, June, July asking what we were doing with the haunted house.”

Instead, the students plan on nailing down virtual performance options with more details to come. The haunted house is the Boulder High theater department’s biggest fundraiser of the year, so Zaring and Smith encouraged any patrons of the arts interested in donating to email them at [email protected]

The big name haunts in town, including Denver’s 13th Floor Haunted House and Westminster’s Frightmare Compound, still plan to offer folks something new to be scared about in 2020.

Both list COVID-19 guidelines on their websites consisting of precautions like actors and guests wearing face masks, actors having their temperature screened, limiting capacity in the venue and wiping down high-touch surfaces.

“We are excited to scare the pants off you this Halloween season… We could all use a little escape from reality,” the Frightmare Compound advertises on its website.

“Time to express yourself”

With the holiday uncertainty looming large as a ghost in the attic, Joe Hengstler, executive director of Olde Town Arvada Business Improvement District, said the future of the trick-or-treat street along Arvada’s main drag remained murky this early in the season. The annual event normally features local businesses handing out candy to little ones, but Hengstler said they don’t have concrete plans yet on how to re-envision such a communal event for pandemic times.

“In the past, it’s been a free-for-all with the streets completely lined with kids,” Hengstler said. “If we find that the situation has changed where we can do this in a safe way, we won’t have to worry about the additional step of shutting down the street because it’s already closed to accommodate the expanded patios for our restaurants.”

Alyssa Manny, vice president of the Tennyson Berkeley Business Association, said the group is working to create an Oct. 31 event at Cesar Chavez Park along Tennyson Street with three zones — a kids’ play zone; a yoga, trick-or-treat and pet parade area; and a space for vendors.

“We are working intimately with the city in order to properly barrier each zone (175 person capacity per zone), provide proper social distancing and successfully direct traffic through the area,” Manny wrote in an email about the event.

With a hodge-podge of Halloween activities looming that may or may not transpire depending on a virus with an unpredictable trajectory, Juniper isn’t letting the unknowns dull the glow of her jack-o’-lantern heart.

The teen intends to dress up as Hello Kitty characters with her sister and devour the finest of sugary confections.

“Purchasing your own candy is not the same as getting fistfuls of Twizzlers you can eat from a stranger’s house, but Halloween is really a time to express yourself,” Juniper said. “I’m still going to get into the spirit.”

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