How are Alaska families celebrating Halloween during COVID-19?

A young girl dressed as a fortune teller stands on a the deck of a house with a bag of candy. Next to her, a ten foot long striped pipe stretches from the deck to the lawn below.
10-year-old Gracie Baer demonstrates her “treat transporter” PVC pipe candy chute while dressed as a fortune teller on Friday. (Photo courtesy Nate Baer)

Like many celebrations in the last eight months, Halloween is looking a lot different as families try to incorporate public health precautions into their trick-or-treating plans.

Nate Baer and his family traditionally spend Halloween passing out candy from their house in the Goldenview neighborhood of Anchorage. Normally they get hundreds of trick-or-treaters. Baer said he’s not sure how many will show up this year, but his ten-year-old daughter Gracie is prepared all the same with a socially-distanced candy delivery device. 

“She called it a ‘treat transporter’,” said Baer. “We went to the store and got a PVC pipe and we decorated it and she got so excited. So we’re going to either stand on a ladder or on our deck and we’re going to shoot candy down the chute so she doesn’t have to get close to the trick-or-treaters.”

Baer said Gracie came up with the candy chute idea for an assignment at school. These days all her classes are done virtually over Zoom, with the exception of an in-person after-school program.

The pandemic has cast uncertainty over everything from celebrating holidays to Gracie getting to interact with other kids, said Baer.

“I think it’s a sad time for kids right now. Because, you know, most kids just aren’t talking to other kids very much. And so it’s kind of a weird time in Alaska, and actually all over the country, I think.”

In Seward, teacher Shelly Walker and her teenage daughters usually go to a Halloween Carnival and trick-or-treat along Dora Way, a popular spot for trick-or-treaters.

“And they’re not going to do either of those things anymore,” said Walker. Instead, her younger daughter is planning a sleepover with a friend in her social bubble, and her older one will help out at a “trunk-or-treat,” another adaptation to Halloween in a pandemic.

“They’ll be still giving out candy but they’ll be distributing it from the bed of her pickup and tossing it to trick-or-treaters instead of having them come to the door,” Walker explained.

Walker said she and her husband, both educators, talk constantly about what activities are safe to participate in. This year they decided not to put out candy.

Anchorage Health Department is cautioning Alaskans to maintain social distancing, avoid crowded events and incorporate cloth face masks — not Halloween masks — into their costumes. AHD director Heather Harris is encouraging people to use ideas like Gracie’s candy chute to get creative with their COVID-friendly Halloween celebrations.

“Maybe that’s carving pumpkins outside with friends, or Halloween themed scavenger hunts, or potentially an open air costume parade,” she suggested. “Things like that, where we can get a little bit more creative, we’re still able to connect with our friends and family and celebrate this opportunity and this holiday and share our creativity through our costumes.”

The CDC recommendations for Halloween include washing hands or using hand sanitizer before giving out treats — even if it’s through a treat chute — and before eating Halloween candy. 

COVID-19 case numbers are continuing to rise and threaten Anchorage’s hospital capacity. With colder weather pushing people indoors and holidays coming up, Harris said it’s now more important than ever to take protective measures seriously.