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Keven Moore: As Halloween approaches, is it a safety hazard to visit haunted houses during a pandemic?

Well, if 2020 hasn’t been scary enough for you, here comes Halloween during a pandemic. This is the season in which many of you are seeking out a haunted attraction to fuel that jolt of adrenalin while being scared out of our wits.

However, how will COVID-19 come into play, and will many of our usual haunted attractions even be open this season? Will it minimize how scary they can be while visiting them?

Most haunted attractions usually draw local or in-state crowds and this season you will notice a significant difference if you are the type to visit the same haunted attractions this year.

To determine if your favorite haunted attraction is open, you will need to visit their website or call for information. Luckily for the industry, they have had eight months to prepare to make a COVID-safer attraction. However, from my estimation, some have decided that COVID-19 was just too haunting of a liability or crawling infection and closed their doors.

In most cases, this is being dictated by the local jurisdiction or the city in which these haunted attractions are located and their current infection rates.

As a result, current regulations will not allow haunted attractions to present their horror shows with the intensity for which they are we are well-known for, and they cannot guarantee a way to protect their patrons, employees, and volunteers properly during this pandemic.

However, most of the haunted attractions are open for business and have spent the past several months trying to figure out ways to present their scenes and attractions. They have worked with local and state officials to find a way to do it safely.

Unlike concerts or big sporting events, many haunted attractions are still able to create a live event that remains fun while also focusing on keeping patrons safe. Many of these attractions are linear, with a clear path that allows patrons to move through the attraction at a safe distance from others and still get the great experience.

In addition to mask requirements for the patrons and the actors, they all will be offering temperature screening, face masks and hand sanitizer upon arrival. Most have created virtual lines, reduced their capacity, and will be maintaining social distancing with ground marking to help enforce that experience.

Most haunted attractions have gone to pre-booking visits online and you will be able to print tickets at home and bring to the attraction or show your mobile phone on arrival. Some of these attractions are operating on a timed entry system that limits the number of permitted patrons to allow for social distancing requirements, which means shorter wait times.

Patrols will not be forced to be combined with anyone outside of the groups and will be sent through the attraction with only those that you arrived with.

Those with gift shops, concessions, and other points of sale will be asking patrons to pay through contactless payment system like Apple pay and credit card readers instead of cash.

Many of the haunted attractions have tried to figure out a way to still present a quality haunt, but in a way to keep everybody safe. Many have reduced the number of actors and attendees. Many of these haunted-lite attractions are operating for fewer and shorter number of days, but many have increased the number of special effects, animations, and altered the way the actors engage the patrons.

To comply with local jurisdiction regulations, all surfaces and touch-points will be sanitized regularly. Most if not all haunted attractions have discontinued interactive high-touch elements of their scares, due to the need to maintain social distancing. Anything hanging that you would need to push or squeeze through has been removed from many of these attractions.

All actors should be wearing masks under theatrical masks and makeup. Additionally, the staff and actors will be temperature screened and confirmed to be symptom-free at the beginning of every evening.

Many of the haunted attractions have changed the way they sound, as many will be silent and will be using recorded sounds or using a voice amplifier. Many will be using more props, and the way they engage you has to be different from the pre-COVID days.

Some have re-routed their attractions so that patron traffic flow will now be one-way to prevent backtracking, similar to what you see in restaurants today with one way in and one way out.

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com

Some have gone as far as to make modifications to the structure of their haunted houses and have even widened walkways and rooms to help accomplish social distancing practices.

Outdoor haunted attractions present the best health and safety environment to avoid contracting COVID-19, and depending on the type of attraction some didn’t have to make that many modifications to the haunting experience.

Some haunted attractions have taken advantage of the social distancing benefits of the cab of a vehicle by offering drive-thru and drive-in haunted options. According to a CNN article dated Oct. 9, a Japanese haunted house and horror event production company created a haunted house drive-in located in a covered parking garage in a nondescript building in downtown Tokyo. It gives visitors a 360-degree, front-row experience that simulates being stuck in a car during a zombie outbreak.

Other U.S. attractions are joining the trend, by offering the Haunted Drive in Houston and the Haunted Road in Orlando, where guests drive and park their car at each scene.

As a patron, the question remains, is it safe to visit a haunted attraction during a pandemic? I really can’t definitively answer that question, but I have visited a Walmart and stayed in a Holiday Inn since the pandemic has begun, and I can say that is an individual decision.

As a risk management and safety professional, I would say that if you are not predisposed with health conditions, willing to play the odds, follow the rules and social distance, you should be safe and I would encourage you to support your local haunted attractions.

Haunted attractions aren’t going to be any more hazardous of an environment than your local grocery store, and they will provide a little bit of an escape from the social distancing world in which we all have been living these past nine months.

Be safe, my friends.

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