Rosa Maldonado’s house is known as “the one that scares people.”
Every Halloween, she and her family celebrate by turning their yard on the corner of West Clark Avenue and North Sparks Street into a haunted maze, complete with costumed scarers. Over the past several years, themes have included cannibals, a circus and La Llorona — “the weeping woman” of Latin American folklore.
On guests’ way out, they’re given the opportunity to donate to a charity the Maldonados have chosen for that year. It’s a reflection of a major reason why Halloween is so important to them: It was the favorite holiday of Rosa Maldonado’s stepdaughter, who died of cancer when she was 8 years old.
“This is the way we heal, and we’re not going to shy away from it,” Maldonado said in a phone interview. “She adored [Halloween]. Even when she was really sick, she wanted to go trick-or-treating. So we’re going to still keep doing that.”
But the Maldonados are departing from their usual plans as this year’s Halloween presents a unique challenge for parents facing a much more real threat than vampires and mummies: COVID-19.
Los Angeles County health officials announced in early September that trick-or-treating would be banned, a measure meant to keep the activity from encouraging the spread of the coronavirus. The prohibiting of the practice was quickly downgraded to “not recommended,” with officials cautioning that social distancing is difficult when treats are being collected and that sharing food is risky.
Halloween gatherings with people not in the same household, as well as festivals and haunted house attractions, originally were also not permitted. But on Oct. 15, the county Department of Public Health announced it would change guidelines to match revised state recommendations to allow private gatherings of three or fewer households.
The gathering must be outdoors, and everyone is required to wear face coverings and maintain a 6-foot social distance. The gathering must be for a maximum of two hours.
“Public Health recommends if you do gather with two other households that you do so with the same households each time, to create a quasi-bubble that can reduce the risk of spreading the virus,” county health officials said in a statement. “It is very important that you do not attend any private gathering if you are experiencing symptoms of illness, have tested positive for COVID-19, or if you have been exposed or likely have been exposed to someone positive.”
Though trick-or-treating may not be the activity of choice for families this year, the Burbank city government is holding a few events for the public. For instance, the OurBurbank volunteer group is partnering with the city’s public information office to hold a house decorating contest. OurBurbank judges will vote on the winners on Monday and Tuesday. By Monday, residents will be able to find a list of houses to see from afar at burbankca.gov/residents/ourburbank.
Starting today, the Burbank Police Department is also offering a downloadable paper pumpkin that families can print and color. Patrol officers will drop off trick-or-treat goodie bags to homes that display their colored pumpkins outside. The template is available at BurbankPD.org.
On Halloween, Burbank mothers Jennifer Samsel-Kull and Tiffany Atwood Richer are planning to take their sons on candy scavenger hunts within their respective “pods,” consisting of three or four kids each.
The families are pooling together their kids’ favorite candy that can be hidden in their yards, they explained, allowing their children to have a Halloween activity while keeping relatively socially distanced. Richer added that they’ll be with households with whom they’ve been socially distancing for the past several months.
For Samsel-Kull’s 12-year-old son, Jackson, an only child, the holiday is a chance to be with other kids — a rarity during the coronavirus pandemic.
“He spends so much time alone that the last thing I want is for him is to be alone on Halloween,” she said by phone. “Everything’s about video games [and] remote school, and that’s great, but just being a boy, running around and riding a bike — or maybe I’m just reflecting that on my childhood and how that level of independence isn’t there now, for multiple reasons.”
Both mothers added that they’re not too concerned about COVID-19 on Halloween, saying they plan to wear masks and be outside most of the day.
“To be honest, it’s not going to be as exciting,” Samsel-Kull admitted. “But I think the fact that they’re not going to have to cancel all of Halloween — they’re going to have a great time just being with their friends.”
A number of streets away, Maldonado still plans to turn her yard into a themed attraction, but guests looking to get a scare will be able only to walk or drive by; the entrance will be blocked off. She added that her family, including her husband, Mike, and her 18-year old daughter, who usually dress up with friends to scare guests, have decided not to hand out candy this year, though they might encourage passersby to donate to charity.
“This is really dear to our heart,” Rosa Maldonado said, “not just because of who we lost, but the imagination can go so far with Halloween versus any other holiday.”