Community Health

As Halloween approaches, more people are itching to get their last-minute spooky season fix despite spikes in COVID-19 cases in and around Louisville.

Not all of the Louisville area’s haunted attractions moved forward with the 2020 season, but at least 10 opened to the public. Many aspects of the season are no different than in years past. Haunted houses that opened are still offering all the traditional scares, creepy clowns and chainsaw chases that thrill seekers have grown accustomed to.

And coronavirus hasn’t stopped the transition from trick-or-treating to getting scared for first-time haunted house visitors like 14-year-old Elaine Demotte.

“This is my first one,” she said. “Terrified, I’m shaking.”

Last week, Elaine’s father, Jon Demotte, took her and a friend to Grim Trails Haunted Attraction. Demotte knows COVID-19 has made this season different, and that’s why he chose the only outdoor haunt that opened in Jefferson County this year.

“At this point in time, we’ve accepted a little bit more risk than normal, but we’re still going to go out and have fun and do some fun things,” Demotte said.

Andrew Coombs is the owner and operator at Grim Trails. For the last eight years, he and his son have transformed four acres of land into a haunted complex based on fairy tales, myths and legends.

But he’s made some changes to the operation this year. For one, he’s expanded the queue area to create more space for social distancing. Groups that get too close to one another while waiting are separated by an employee who patrols the area with a flashlight.

Coombs said those precautions and PPE requirements for guests and performers have allowed him to open this year.

“We didn’t know for sure back in the spring, obviously, because things were brand new,” he said. “And things were really crazy back then. But as the summer progressed, we talked to some of the health officials and they say as long as you follow the CDC guidelines, you should be able to open, so that’s what we did.”

Coombs said despite the pandemic, Grim Trails is having one of its best years. With limited recreational opportunities, he said, people are turning to haunts like his.

Baxter Avenue Morgue has also had steady business this year. Owner Quentin Stephenson said the decision to open is a financial one for haunted houses, which he describes as small businesses that only have a handful of weeks a year to stay afloat.

“We don’t have anything else supporting the morgue,” Stephenson said. “It’s not any of our careers. We all have our own jobs outside of this place, and the morgue operates as its own entity. And if the morgue doesn’t open, we have no money for startup next year.”

Neither haunt operator said COVID-19 has affected business much. But case numbers in Indiana and Kentucky have continued to escalate to record-breaking numbers throughout October.

Those spikes have led local and national health officials to advise against participating in indoor attractions like haunted houses, despite allowing them to stay open. Louisville’s Chief Health Strategist Dr. Sarah Moyer said just because something is open doesn’t mean it’s safe.

“I recommend everybody follow the governor’s recommendations that we are now in the red,” Moyer said. “And I would not consider a haunted house an essential activity that people need to do, so please have your haunted house scares at home and be safe.”

Some people feel that they are already exposing themselves to the virus through work and everyday life. Diamond Avery said if she’s going to spend time around others working at UPS, she might as well take time to have fun around others, too.

“I’ve worked this whole time, so this is just another group of people,” she said.

The last night of operation for many haunted houses in the Louisville area is Halloween, though some will continue through the first weekend of November.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.