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Health department gives ghouls go-ahead for Halloween haunting

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They’re back!

Or they soon will be. Witches, warlocks, werewolves and weirdos are taking back their rightful place in the pantheon of horrors, thanks to declining COVID-19 infection rates due largely to vaccination.

While trick-or-treating is a go, that doesn’t mean the global pandemic won’t stalk the streets All Hallows’ Eve, however. It just means that decreasing case counts across the community and the country plus the availability of vaccines are putting some traditions back on the holiday menu.

“Bobbing for apples is probably still not the smartest thing we could do, sanitation-wise, but Halloween in general does look very different in 2021 than it did in 2020,” said Jason Elliot, of the Blue Ridge Health District.

“There’s still community spread, and our little trick-or-treaters, in general, haven’t been vaccinated, so there are some mitigation strategies that are important to remember. But it does look different in that we can go out and do some things,” Elliot said.

Last year, getting out and going door-to-door was inadvisable. The Virginia Department of Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the health district all issued guidelines that recommended no neighborhood trick-or-treating, no parties and definitely no indoor haunted houses.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not released a statement specifically on Halloween, CDC leaders, including Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, have stated that Halloween celebrations are good to go.

“There are a few things we recommend to stay healthy, and at the top of that list is getting vaccinated,” Elliot said. “We’re just a couple of days out from Halloween now, but just think about vaccination status. Anyone who is 12 or older, and around the corner some people younger than will be able to be vaccinated, but many still aren’t. This Halloween one of the scariest things is not being vaccinated.”

Elliot said health officials are repeating recommendations for six-foot social distancing and wearing face masks. They’re also recommending Halloween events be held outdoors to thwart COVID-19.

“Getting the masks that we’ve been wearing and working them into the costume you wear is away to be both spirited for Halloween and be safe, too,” Elliot said.

Although health officials are giving a yellow caution light to going ahead with haunting the neighborhood, not everyone is joining in.

For the second-straight year, University of Virginia students living on the Lawn have canceled the community trick-or-treat that attracted scores of neighborhood children, both older and younger than 18.

“Following guidance from our public health experts, and in an effort to reduce potential risk to children in the community who cannot yet get vaccinated for COVID as well as others who are vulnerable, Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn will not occur this year,” UVa Chief Student Affairs Officer Robyn Hadley wrote in a message to Lawn residents.

“While this event is traditionally held outdoors, the university’s public health advisers believe bringing so many unvaccinated children together in this way would increase the risk of spreading the virus in our community and the surrounding area,” she wrote. “We know this is disappointing, but we also know you understand that we must put the health of the Charlottesville community, particularly children who cannot yet get vaccinated, first.”

UVa will hold alternative, virtual events for students and the UVa community, including a virtual costume contest that will kick off Friday. Details will be available on UVa social media platforms.

COVID fears aren’t stopping the UVa Brighter Together Initiative from turning the Rotunda into a haunted pumpkin patch, however.

The UVa Arts initiative has turned various UVa buildings and areas of Grounds into a wide variety of virtual habitats during the pandemic, thanks to energetic pop-up projections that blend prominent architecture with colorful lights and music.

“The Brighter Together initiative wanted to do something for Halloween as there will be no trick or treating on grounds, unfortunately,” said artist Jeff Dobrow. “The idea was born to turn the Rotunda into a pumpkin, perhaps The Great Rotumpkin! Traditional, classic Halloween spooktacular vibes were in order with comforting manifestations of our past youthful Halloween memories, with a little bit of a twist, maybe.”

Dobrow initially planned to create a 5-minute piece but said he realized more feelings were needed with more contexts. He settled on three shorter vignettes, each with its own identity and place.

Dobrow is a technology-based visual artist who explores evolving, fluid relationships between technology, art, and process to produce interactive, immersive, and involving experiences, according to information his website, zilog80.com.

He created the Halloween projections pieces using traditional motion design software and laser projectors.

“[They] feature a classic haunted house, a pumpkin patch, and some entertaining, undead skeletons dancing the night away,” Dobrow said. “Of course I gave each piece some of my own interpretation and could not help the fun in finding the proper musical scores for each which are memory-evoking, fun and engaging.”

The shows run from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Halloween.

On Saturday, Charlottesville Parks and Recreation will bring a pumpkin patch Azalea, Tonsler, Rives and Washington parks as part of the city’s Pumpkins in the Park program.

Pumpkins will be spread out in a grassy area, some easy to find and some hidden. Registration is required, and each registrant picks one pumpkin and receives a bag of treats, as well as some crafts. No tricks are included.

They who find the pumpkin with the park’s logo win $50 gift cards to parks and recreation facilities.

Registration can be made by following the links on the parks and recreation webpage at www.charlottesville.gov.

Elliot said the health department wants people to have fun and enjoy themselves, but they want people to be safe at the same time. For some, that may mean staying home.

“If you’re not feeling well, don’t go out. It’s a funky time of year when it’s hard to know if that symptom you’re feeling is COVID or if it’s allergies, if it’s a cold, or if it’s the flu,” he said. “The safest bet is, if you’re not feeling great, ask your friends to hang onto some candy for you.”

Elliot said that even though the focus is on COVID, fall and winter bring on a wide variety of contagious ailments.

“Our focus is still on COVID and the known variants and the fact that there is still transmission throughout our communities,” he said. “But we’ve got lots of other infections, especially in kiddos, and those things can be spread. We can still have fun and do a lot of things. It’s just how we do it in a way that’s safer for everybody. Making little changes can make a big difference.”

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