Halloween in a pandemic: What Utah parents say about their plans for that spooky holiday

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Max Carpenter, 1, sits amongst the pumpkins at Wheeler Farm's annual Pumpkin Days celebration on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. The "Family-Friendly Not-so-Scary Halloween,” features a hay maze, pumpkin patch, children's train, games and other attractions.

Murray • With an outdoor hay maze, pumpkin patch and plenty of cows, horses and baby goats to admire, the Pumpkin Days celebration at Wheeler Farm was a “not-so-scary” event for Steve Pehrson and his three young children.

When asked whether his children would be trick-or-treating on Halloween, though, the Kearns father was spooked about what to do — especially in light of Utah’s uptick in coronavirus numbers.

“We are still undecided," he said Saturday. “We go back and forth every day."

Rob and Lindsey Nelson of Murray are similarly conflicted. They are prepared for the Oct. 31 holiday, with costumes for their three children and pre-wrapped candy for the neighbor kids.

“We might go to a few houses of people," said an uncertain Lindsey Nelson. “But we don’t really know."

During a pandemic, even something as simple as dressing up and getting candy feels ominous.

This week Gov. Gary Herbert laid out some Halloween guidelines for Utah families — mainly encouraging parents and children to use common sense.

“We’ve got a fun holiday coming up here,” he said, “Let’s make sure it’s a safe and a happy one and we follow good, appropriate protocol.”

While masks are part of many costumes, they do not protect against the virus, Herbert said, so a protective face coverings should be worn underneath.

When going to homes to collect candy, trick-or-treaters should keep their distance — waiting until the porch is free of people before stepping up to the door.

And, he added, children should wait to eat their sugary treats until they get home and the packages can be cleaned with a sanitary wipe.

Those rules make perfect sense to Sarah and Doug Chatterton, who visited Wheeler Farm on Saturday with their two elementary-aged children and some friends.

“We’re going to trick-or-treat, for sure,” said Sarah without hesitation.

From the face coverings and outdoor setting to the pre-packaged candy and minimal time spent on the porch, “it’s the perfect pandemic holiday" added Doug.

Parents Marlin Taylor and Eric Granato aren’t as convinced.

“The numbers are too big,” said Taylor. “Even if it feels safe, it doesn’t feel responsible.”

Of course, 8-year-old Keira, isn’t happy about the decision, Taylor said, adding that the family will find other ways to celebrate — like watching scary movies.

Movies at home is one of several “low risk” Halloween activities recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Carving or decorating pumpkins with members of your household is low risk, the site states. So is carving or decorating pumpkins outside with neighbors or friends — at a safe distance, of course.

Virtual Halloween costume contests and scavenger hunts around your home are also OK.

The CDC recommends that people avoid higher-risk activities, including " traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go door to door."

The CDC also discourages “trunk or treat" events which have been popular in Utah especially among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Other higher-risk activities to avoid:

• Crowded costume parties held indoors.

• Indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming.

• Going on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household.

• Using alcohol or drugs, which can cloud judgement and increase risky behaviors.