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Halloween party policies vary by business as virus cases surge

Courtesy of Arden Rankins

Between Kenai Lake and the Chugach Mountains is the site of one of the peninsula’s most popular Halloween parties.

“Halloween has been huge here," said Arden Rankins, the owner of the Sunrise Inn in Cooper Landing. "People get so excited and they have amazing costumes, and I think they start planning Nov. 1. So it’s probably our biggest party of the year.”

The annual Halloween party is usually a chance for the inn to fill its bar and rooms with customers, some of whom come from as far away as Anchorage.

As coronavirus cases escalate in Alaska and on the peninsula, however, Rankins and her crew made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s Halloween festivities. 

As of this weekend, there were 312 active resident cases on the peninsula and nearly 7,000 total cases in the state. Representatives from the state of Alaska have repeatedly asked that residents not congregate indoors in large groups unless necessary, and if it is necessary that they wear masks and socially distance. 

Rankins said it was a sense of responsibility to her community that spurred her to cancel the party completely. 

“Economically it’s huge for us and coming into the winter, it’s savings for us for the season," she said. "But we also have a lot of seniors in this community who have chosen not to go to their snowbird places this year because of COVID, and we’ve got a lot of young families here, little kids going to school.”

It’s a big financial loss for the inn on top of an unusually bad summer for tourism. Rankins said the inn has been operating at about 55 percent capacity.

She hopes that by canceling the party now, they might avoid a closure later down the road.

“It’s not necessarily great to have nowhere open between Girdwood, Sterling and Seward," she said. "We’re the only ones that are year-round.”

Other peninsula businesses are tentatively going ahead with their Halloween festivities. The Duck Inn and Lounge on K-Beach Road holds a Halloween costume contest each year. Owner Lela Rosin said they’ll offer room discounts for guests on the night of the party and that it’s one of the business’s most popular events of the year.

As of now, The Duck is planning on holding that party, as well as a “pre-party” this Wednesday. They’ll be taking guests’ temperature at the door and maybe limiting the number of people.

Masks are not a requirement at the party, though mask-wearing will be incentivized as part of the costume contest.

“I know it’s not a requirement right now, but we’re having just a special contest giveaway for everyone that shows up with a costume with a mask," she said.

Rosin said she’s on high alert for employee and customer illnesses. She said they’ll probably cancel the event if any employees test positive and they’ll also be monitoring community case rates, though they don’t have a specific case number in mind for how many would be too many.

“We’re going to keep an eye on everything right up until the last minute," she said. "And if it looks like we can’t safely have a get-together, then we will possibly change it at the very last minute.”

A few local restaurants and stores have shuttered as employees test positive for the virus. Rosin said the last positive test result an employee from the inn saw was at the start of the pandemic.

"I think keeping some degree of normalcy is important to a lot of people," she said. "Doing it safely is important to us, as well. So, we’ll for sure be on high alert for all of those things.”

Other businesses, including several drive-through coffee shops, are taking their celebrations to the pavement. That way there’s less of a chance that trick-or-treaters are giving or getting germs.

Orca Theater is one of several businesses participating in a “Trunk or Treat” on Halloween day. Most years, the theater will do a showing of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” in conjunction with Far North Derby, though they’re not doing that this year

“I got contacted from Twin City Raceways and they wanted to do a car show on Halloween so I thought, ‘Perfect timing,'" said Orca Theater owner Shelly Endsley. 'And then they wanted to pass out candy. ‘Well, shoot, let’s just make this into a community thing.’ And it just grew from there.”

Endlsey said they’re asking people who are sick not to come and are suggesting attendees wear masks. In addition to businesses, they’re also allowing individuals and families to hand out candy.

“We’ve instructed them, ‘Please do not make homemade stuff,'" she said. "We want this to be as safe as possible, so everybody has been instructed to purchase the pre-packaged candy.”

Over 600 people have responded to the Trunk or Treat event on Facebook.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.
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