How to Have Fun and Stay Safe During Fall Activities This Year — Including Trick-or-Treating
Experts offer their advice on how to make apple picking, hay rides, Halloween and more, safer for your family.
This article was updated from its original publish date September 10, 2020 to reflect updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in regards to COVID-19. For most recent guidelines, please visit the CDC website.
The days are getting shorter, the ads for pumpkin spice everything have started — autumn is approaching. With the new season traditionally comes apple picking, hay rides, corn mazes, haunted houses and a host of other fun activities. However, since COVID-19 is still a concern, everything looks different this year. Luckily, experts say there are ways to enjoy these activities and minimize risk at the same time — and in fact, having some fun in a safe way might be just what the doctor ordered.
"We have to consider our human need for interaction along with the safety risks, since we’ve been living with the pandemic for several months now," says Dr. Theresa Brennan, MD, chief medical officer of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
"To me, safety is not absolute, it’s a level of risk," Dr. Brennan says. "We have to determine how much risk we can accept in the face of what the benefit is. When I think about this, I also think about the fact that we’re human beings, and we have been isolated. Our physical and mental health really is important, and aided by us getting out there and having some interaction in a safe way."
Things to Consider Before You Choose An Activity
To minimize risk, there are certain safety factors to consider no matter what the activity.
Outside Is Better Than Inside
Dr. Brennan recommends considering a checklist before committing. "Think about the event itself: It is outside or inside? Outside is clearly better," she says.
Who Will Be There Matters
"An event with a large number of people is less optimal than one with a small number." Also ask yourself: Do you know the other people who will be there, and what their safety practices are? Hanging out with a small number of people you know have been adhering to COVID-19 safety guidelines is likely safer than spending time in a crowd of strangers.
Ask About Additional Safety Protocols
Will the event have safety measures in place, such as a mask mandate and monitored social distancing? Consider all of these factors when deciding whether to participate in any event.
Know the Background Infection Rate
Another consideration: "What’s the background infection rate in the community?" notes Dr. Sharon Nachman, MD, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. If your community is experiencing a high rate, more caution about which activities to participate in is important, especially if there will be a lot of people you don’t know in attendance.
What To Do When You Get There
Look for Apple Orchards and Pumpkin Patches with Schedules
To make apple and pumpkin picking safer, some orchards are creating schedules, so the number of people picking at once is limited. Again, check the web site or call your favorite location before setting out to see what measures are in place, says Dr. Karen Krueger, MD, infectious disease specialist and instructor of medicine at Northwestern Medicine.
Once you’ve picked apples, be sure to wash them and your hands before eating, Dr. Nachman says. She recommends bringing a bottle of water with you to rinse the apples if you’re going to eat any before getting them home, and use hand sanitizer if hand-washing isn’t possible.
Many orchards offer hayrides as part of the day's acitvities. The CDC recommends avoiding these rides if you'll be with people outside your household.
Traditional Trick-or-Treating May Be a No-Go
Of course, parents are likely most concerned about Halloween. "Halloween will look a little different than in the past, but that’s okay," Dr. Nachman says. Some areas have banned trick-or-treating this year, so check with your local government before deciding on your plan for the night.
According to the CDC, traditional trick-or-treating that includes kids ringing doorbells and people handing out candy in-person is a high-risk activity — mask or not. If you still want to hand out candy in some capacity, Dr. Krueger recommends putting individually wrapped candy on a table outside instead of handing it out, to minimize close contact.
If you are still planning on trick-or-treating in some capacity, Dr. Nachman recommends getting creative with masks, making face coverings part of kids’ costumes. Keep in mind, general costume masks are not a substitute for cloth masks. Parents should be vigilant about wearing masks as well, for safety and also to set an example for kids, she adds.
Skip Indoor Haunted Houses
Because of the high risk of screaming, the CDC recommends avoiding indoor haunted houses this year. "I’d be cautious of indoor haunted houses," says Dr. Krueger. If it's designed as more of an outdoor maze, where you go through with small groups of people you know and everyone is masked, that would make it safer. Call event organizers in advance or check the web site to gauge the level of safety.
"We need to remain vigilant," she says. "But it can still be fun for the kids."