Fall Activities During Covid: What's Safe, and What Might Be Risky
How to safely go apple picking, enjoy a hayride, take a woodsy hike, hold a tailgate, and do other fall favorites.
Fall is here, and that means there's a range of fun activities you can enjoy with family and friends—in any normal year, that is. But 2020 has brought us a global pandemic, and how we spend our time is now limited by social distancing rules, mask-wearing, and other safety measures designed to protect people from the coronavirus.
Does that mean you have to cancel all your favorite autumn activities? Absolutely not. “Fall is a great family-fun season and with positive health behaviors, we can keep it that way,” Carol A. Winner, MPH, who founded the Give Space personal distancing movement, tells Health. Here are eight activities you can still enjoy this fall. Some are safe as is, and others simply need to be adjusted a bit to make them work during Covid.
While many organized apple-picking events have been cancelled this year due to COVID-19, such as the Georgia Apple Festival and the North Carolina Apple Festival, farm orchards are generally still open. To manage crowds and ensure social distancing, lots of farms have timed entries or offer tickets for a specific time frame.
Every farm will have its own policies in place, such as wearing masks, washing hands before entering the orchard, using bags supplied by the farm rather than brought from home, and refraining from eating fruit in the orchard. Winner advises checking farm policies online, and also reminding kids of necessary safety practices before you go. After the fun, make sure you wash your hands, and clean any fruit or other products you bring home as soon as you arrive back.
Autumn isn’t complete without a hayride, right? The CDC classifies a hayride with people who are not part of your own household as a "higher risk" activity. However, state and local classifications vary. For instance, the website of New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo states that a hayride is a low-risk outdoor arts and entertainment activity, and is permitted to operate under New York's NY Forward guidance.
New York requires masks and social distancing (staying six feet apart from others) on hayrides, and frequently touched surfaces must be cleaned and sanitized between rides by employees. Guidelines may vary by state or jurisdiction, but to keep the risk of contracted the coronavirus low, it's a good idea to follow these requirements, even if they aren't mandated. If the wagon is too crowded for social distancing and it contains people who are not in your household, it's better to skip it than risk transmission.
A scavenger hunt
You don’t have to go to a farm to get your fall fun fix. A scavenger hunt is the perfect activity to keep kids entertained at home, and it’s a tradition you can continue this year if you keep safety in mind. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a guide for hosting an at-home scavenger hunt, aimed at children age 6 years and older, adolescents, and adults within the same household.
People from other households can join in, but it’s important to make sure all players keep their distance (six feet apart!) and wear a mask.
Pumpkin patches are usually large spaces, which makes social distancing easier. If some parts of the pumpkin patch force people to be crowded, additional precautions must be taken. In some cases, pumpkin farms will have their own rules. For instance, KC Pumpkin Patch in Olathe, Kansas, requires a mask inside one specific room. There’s also one-way traffic and designated social distancing markers in that room, plus safety barriers to protect staff and guests.
Many pumpkin patches, such as Hank’s Pumpkintown in Water Mill, New York, have added handwashing stations and hand-sanitizer dispensers across their grounds to help make hygiene a priority. Not sure the pumpkin patch you plan to visit will have these? Play it safe and bring your own hand sanitizer and wipes.
If there’s one COVID-friendly fall activity, it’s leaf-peeping. You don’t even have to leave your car (or get off your bike) to enjoy all the colors of the fall foliage. If you decide to do it on foot, just be aware of social distancing guidelines.
“Fresh air and space are our friends,” says Winner, which surely makes a hike in the woods our pandemic BFF. Even though nature isn’t off-limits, it’s a good idea to find out ahead of time what facilities are available. Although many state and national parks are now open, some of them have no in-person visitor services (such as restrooms and visitor centers) available. And most areas that require contact, like playgrounds and boat rentals, are still closed. Check with the park website to find out how it’s currently operating. (You can search all parks on the National Park Service website.)
If you hike in a state or national park, take your own soap and water or hand sanitizer to use while you’re out, stick to social distancing guidelines, and try not to sneeze or cough if you don’t have the trail to yourself.
Tailgating is an important part of the game day experience for lots of football fans, and some states have created guidelines to allow people to tailgate safely during the pandemic. For instance, the Florida State Athletics Department and Seminole Boosters are restricting individual tailgates to their own parking spaces, and attendees are asked to maintain six feet of social distance between tailgate areas. Fans are also encouraged to wear face masks when walking through parking lots and while socializing. These are solid guidelines for everyone who plans to tailgate, and your tailgate will be even safer if you limit it to people from your own household.
If a hike in the woods is low on the coronavirus risk scale, going to a football game is at the other end. But there are lots of guidelines and restrictions in place to help reduce COVID-19 transmission at high school, college, and NFL games.
For starters, crowd capacity has been drastically reduced at NFL games, and some teams, such as the New York Giants and New York Jets, aren’t letting fans in the stands at all until 2021. You’ll also have to wear a mask to attend an NFL game, or you might be turned away at the stadium entrance. This is enforced league-wide and supersedes any lack of a local mask mandate (or lack thereof).
When it comes to high school and college football, it’s not so clear-cut. In some states, fans are required to wear a mask in all public settings when social distancing isn’t possible, and they can be fined if they’re caught without one. In others, such as Iowa, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, there are no state-wide mask requirements at all.
“Activities that involve bringing together a large number of people, like tailgating and going to a football stadium, are always higher risk, so if you choose to go, please make sure to wear a mask and social distance at all times, even when you're in line to get in or use a restroom,” Anne Rimoin, PhD, MPH, professor of epidemiology at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, tells Health.
The bottom line
Remember, there is no zero-risk scenario when it comes to COVID-19. “You always have to think about risk in terms of how much time you will be near others, how much space you can socially distant from others, how many people will be there, and whether the place is outdoors or indoors with proper ventilation,” warns Rimoin.
Don't' forget about at-home activities that celebrate all the things we love about fall. “Baking apple pies, making candied apples, and decorating pumpkins while sipping hot chocolate is all safe fun,” says Winner. “Building a spooky fort and stuffing a scarecrow offers safe outdoor activity.”
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.
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