Sarah Earnshaw contributed to this story and filmed the accompanying video.
The CDC guidelines online listed “going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming” as a high risk fall activity that should be avoided during the pandemic. However, many haunted attractions in northern Utah have found ways to remain open this Halloween season.
Salt Lake City’s Fear Factory recently signed the Stay Safe Stay Open campaign, a pledge for small and local businesses that they will fulfill COVID-19 safety requirements in order to stay in business while also assuring customers they are safe there.
Rob Dunfield, COO and co-owner of Fear Factory, said many people want to get out and have fun safely, so businesses need to be willing to follow the rules and take the necessary precautions to allow for such activities.
“If you went to a haunted house that operates prior to COVID, and they still operate the same way, then you probably are at higher risk,” Dunfield said. “But if you comply with the guidelines, I think it’s very safe.”
Fear Factory made many changes to its attraction to comply with CDC guidelines, including a new timed ticketing system to allow only a certain number of guests to come in during a certain amount of time, which reduces crowding in the attraction.
In addition, queue ropes are marked every 16 feet for groups to be distanced from each other, masks are required for everyone present, hand sanitizer is provided everywhere, actors stay farther away from people and the company has hired a new team of people specifically for sanitizing common touch points every ten minutes.
Dunfield said the attraction has also made many changes specifically for keeping employees safe. The temperature of every employee is checked at their arrival, and they answer questions about symptoms and travel; makeup stations are divided into stalls where only the artist and the actor are allowed, only airbrush makeup is used and the two are not allowed to talk during the application and if an employee gets sick, they must get tested for COVID-19 and cannot come back to work until they are cleared.
Dunfield said when people ask him why he still opened during the pandemic, he reminds them that if people want to come, then they can and it will be safe. If they don’t want to go, then they shouldn’t go.
Dana Bird and Mikayla Williams, students of Weber State University and attendees of Fear Factory, both said the experience this year was almost better than past years because of the lack of crowds. They liked being spaced out from other people, since they don’t like being so close to strangers anyways.
Williams said that, while the attraction was almost the same as normal, it did seem a little less scary because actors couldn’t get as close and in your face, and they also seemed to scream and yell less due to the masks.
Salt Lake City’s Nightmare on 13th has taken similar measures to open during the Halloween season, according to General Manager Jake Mabey. They’ve switched to timed ticketing, staff members are now screened and temperatures are taken each day, sanitizer stations are available and everyone is required to wear a mask for the whole night.
In addition, groups are directed to keep distance from each other through signage and markings on the ground, and employees walk around outside making sure that guests keep their distance and their masks on.
Mabey said they also have a dedicated staff for regularly cleaning common touch points throughout the night, in addition to professionals who come in to clean everything every day from the night before.
Mabey said Nightmare on 13th will be negatively affected by reduced attendance this year, due to spacing, but it’s a sacrifice they are willing to make to stay open and provide entertainment to guests.
“We are so excited that we were able to open up and give Utah somewhere to go to try and escape the true horrors in the world for an hour or so and have a really fun and safe experience,” Mabey said.
Frightmares at Lagoon, in Farmington, also kept groups of guests in line for their haunted attractions apart by using markers on the ground, and there were actors walking around the queues specifically for making sure the social distancing and mask policies were enforced.
At the entrance, sanitizer was provided and guests were instructed that if they tried to take off their mask or touch the actors and props while inside the walkthrough, they would be escorted out. Actors kept more distance than normal.
Asylum 49, a haunted attraction in Tooele famous for its full-contact experience, advertised on their website that due to COVID-19 there would be no contact this year. However, there were still a few actors touching guests observed on set. Masks were also required, though some guests had them down around their chins without any mention from staff.
Castle of Chaos, an underground haunted house in Murray, had time slots for attendees much like Fear Factory and Nightmare on 13th. The amount of actors was significantly less than in years past and there were hand sanitizing stations throughout the attraction.
While these haunted houses are rearranging the layout of their attractions and making changes to keep attendees safe during the experience, numbers continue to rise across the state. All of these haunted houses are located in counties that are marked as having over 200 cases reported in a 14 day period on coronavirus.utah.gov.