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Pandemic spooks some but not all trick or treat plans

With the convergence of a full moon, a blue moon, Saturday celebrations and a worldwide pandemic, trick-or-treating in the year of COVID-19 is sure to be unique.

It will be another big decision-making moment for parents as they determine whether they will allow their children to roam neighborhoods in search of the annual candy bonanza.

Pennsylvania’s Health Department has not yet issued any specific trick-or-treat guidelines, but that hasn’t stopped some communities from announcing plans for the annual observance while others are taking a wait-and-see posture with Halloween still more than a month away. Most area Halloween parades have already been canceled.

Jim Thorpe Mayor Michael Sofranko said things will go on as usual in the borough with official trick-or-treating hours scheduled for between 5 and 7 p.m. on Oct. 31. He has suggested that tables be set up outside homes so social distancing can be observed.

At a recent borough council meeting, Bowmanstown Mayor Zachary Snyder said he has no intentions of canceling trick-or-treat. Bowmanstown will hold a “Boo-manstown” trunk-or-treat event observing social distancing protocols in a two-block area of Lime Street between Ore and Hamilton streets from 1 to 3 p.m. on Oct. 31.

Summit Hill Mayor Paul McArdle announced that trick-or-treating will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 31.

Walnutport Mayor Wayne Weidner said the annual event will occur between 6 and 8 p.m. Oct. 28 in the Northampton County borough.

Borough officials in Weatherly are leaning toward a drive-thru Halloween night at the Eurana Park parking lot and discouraging door-to-door trick-or-treating.

One concern among community officials is that children and adults from municipalities where events are scrapped will flock to those which are going ahead with trick-or-treat events.

Some officials such as Bowmanstown’s Mayor Snyder made it clear that events in his borough are “strictly for Bowmanstown residents only.” Participants will be asked to show identification or a utility bill, he said.

Halloween is not only an important holiday for children, but it’s big for adults, too, as they tend to gather at friends’ homes and in public places for costume and other types of parties.

According to the National Retail Federation, the economic impact of Halloween last year was about $9 billion with estimated per person spending of $86. NRP believes that those numbers will be drastically reduced this year because of health concerns and mandated restrictions.

Fearing the spread of the virus and liability, many haunted house attractions have already canceled plans for opening this year. Among the biggest is the one at Dorney Park, which closed for the season early in September.

Health officials are concerned that if Halloween-themed events go on unchecked, that they could lead to superspreader outbreaks where infected people can spread the novel coronavirus to multiple people.

Some health professionals liken complications of business-as-usual trick-or-treating as a case of Murphy’s Law waiting to happen - “Whatever can go wrong will.”

Are sick children coming to a home? Are the homeowners ill? Are the treats packaged and safe from contamination? Can at least 6 feet of social distancing be maintained during the interaction between visitors and dwelling occupants?

These are just some of the many concerns health professionals have raised as parents decide how to handle this year’s events.

There are other practical questions that have to be considered this year that we never even thought of in previous years. For example, if you have a bowl of wrapped candy for trick-or-treaters, do they reach into the bowl, or do you give out a specified number of treats from the bowl? In either case, is hand sanitizer or some other cleansing agent used in between each distribution? Or is it just better to eliminate the bowl, because reaching into a common bowl is probably a risky situation?

It’s more likely that you should be concerned not with what you do but how you do it. The big three to remember are: Wear a face covering, keep your distance and wash or sanitize your hands frequently. Trick-or-treating brings its own set of obstacles, but maintaining small groups and proper hygiene can ensure families are still able to celebrate, at least to some degree.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com