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How Tampa Bay can trick-or-treat safely in 2020

Halloween will look different this year. But there are ways to keep your distance and still let the kids dress up and have fun.

Even before the pandemic, Kim Pindar tried to make trick-or-treating as safe as possible in her Snell Shores neighborhood in St. Petersburg by providing peanut-free options. This year, Pindar, 61, has a witch costume that will include a big hat, a black face mask and gloves.

“The only thing you’ll be able to see is my eyeballs,” she said.

Pindar will cut open candy bags with scissors and distribute treats with tongs. “We don’t want a hundred kids putting their hands in the bowls because that defeats the purpose,” she said.

One more victim of this coronavirus pandemic could be Halloween. Medical experts say there are some ways to make trick-or-treating safe, but it should look different this year.

Instead of kids heading out with a dozen friends to ring doorbells house to house, they should stick with their own family — and forget the doorbells. Expect to see tables of treats set up on driveways and creative chutes and slides to launch candy at kids from a distance.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines about Halloween and it advises against traditional trick-or-treating, where treats are handed to children. A trunk-or-treat, where candy is handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots, isn’t advised because it attracts crowds in close spaces. And the CDC cautions against attending crowded costume parties held indoors.

But the CDC says one-way trick-or-treating, where individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up for families to grab and go, is not a high risk.

Dr. Patrick Mularoni, a pediatric sports and emergency medicine physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, said he regrets what kids have gone through in 2020. "Children have shouldered a large burden when it comes to COVID.”

“They are the ones who have stayed home from school, they’ve missed out on a lot of activities. So don’t skip Halloween, but do it safely,” Mularoni said.

He suggests avoiding crowds, skipping the big bowl and setting candy or treat bags out on a table.

“This year it is a safer plan to accompany your children on Halloween,” Mularoni said, “and make it a family event rather than letting a huge group of kids go out together.”

Neighborhoods that would normally be popular Halloween spots, where people drive in for the trick-or-treat scene, are worried about how to do this safely.

“The virus is still out there. It’s not over," said Seminole Heights resident Alexis Zora, 38. ″A lot can change between now and Halloween."

Zora is worried that cases will spike after Gov. Ron DeSantis moved Florida to Phase 3 last week. If local numbers are down, she and her husband, Carlos, plan to dress up as masked pirates and throw full-sized candy bars at older children from their porch.

“We figured the little ones probably will have trouble catching candy, so we plan to extend it with a claw," she said.

“A lot of people have been back and forth because they think if you give out candy you’re encouraging it. It’s very hard,” Zora said. “I’m sure there’s a lot of trick-or-treaters who will be doing it responsibly.”

Barbara Mullane, 62, has mostly stayed inside since March due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a bad heart. But the Hudson woman has been brainstorming ways to celebrate the holidays despite the pandemic.

“Are we going to tell them Santa isn’t coming because of COVID?” Mullane said. “I just feel the kids have been through enough. I’m doing it not just for the kids, but for us.”

Mullane’s sister suggested a candy chute, so she sent her husband to buy a 10-foot PVC pipe. She spray-painted it black and wrapped it in orange shimmery ribbon and lights. Mullane plans to perch atop a ladder and send handfuls of candy down the chute to children below. She’ll wear a Halloween mask layered over her N95, plus gloves.

“We’re trying to do it safe — social distance trick-or-treating, you know,” she laughed.

Barbara Mullane, 62, created a candy chute out of a 10-foot piece of PVC pipe. The Fairway Oaks of Hudson resident plans to stand on a ladder, covered by a piece of Halloween fabric, and toss treats down to neighborhood children below. [ Courtesy of Barbara Mullane ]

St. Petersburg’s Old Northeast neighborhood takes Halloween seriously, with elaborately decorated homes and many neighbors buying 50 bags of candy to hand out.

“Going to see the decorated homes in the Old Northeast is a tradition for my family as well,” Mularoni said, “but the crowds will likely create difficulties with social distancing. This year, it’s probably a better idea to stay in your own neighborhood rather than going to large public gatherings like the one that occurs in the Old Northeast each year.”

But don’t take Halloween away from the kids, or even the adults, he said.

“This is the year to decorate your house. This is the year to carve a pumpkin. Dress them up in a costume and take pictures and share it with all of your friends,” Mularoni said. “If you want to trick-or-treat, there is a way to do this that is still safe.”

There are a wide variety of Loot Scoop bags available this year at the Spirit Halloween popup stores. They are $7.99. [ SHARON KENNEDY WYNNE | Times ]

Safety tips

Here are some practical ideas for keeping your distance as a kid or as a giver of treats.

  • Set up a table in the yard or driveway to dispense treats at a distance. OrientalTrading.com has some fun ideas for decorating the table with ghost balloons or bats.
  • Goodie bags that say Boo to You are $3.99 for 24 at Michaels craft store. There also are spider and pumpkin designs. Clear treat bags are $1.99 to $4.99 for 100.
  • Make a no-contact candy zone by clipping treats to a hedge or laying them out on a table for kids to help themselves. Have a big bottle of hand sanitizer on hand.
  • Use an extended arm grabber to hand out candy or give your trick-or-treater a Loot Scoop bag to hold out a candy bag on an extended rod.
  • Make a candy chute using a PVC pipe or a cardboard shipping tube.

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