If the year’s first yellowing leaves and sudden chilly days have you craving a pumpkin spice latte and apple cider doughnuts, you’re probably ready to map out your fall fun calendar. Fortunately, many of your favorite autumnal activities are finding ways to continue during the pandemic.
“I just went raspberry picking the other day, and I was surprised to see all the covid protocols in place,” says Alvin Tran, an assistant professor of public health in the University of New Haven School of Health Sciences in Connecticut. “From what I’ve seen, there are a lot berry-picking farms and apple-picking farms that do have covid protocols in place. And that is promising.”
We’ll take promising. Here are things to keep in mind as you go about your fall frolicking.
Orchards and pumpkin patches
Whether you’re headed to an orchard or pumpkin patch for the produce or the photo ops, there will probably be new protocols in place.
Tran, who teaches a course about pandemics and public health threats, recommends looking at a farm’s website to make sure it has a covid 19-prevention plan in place before you visit. Key measures to look for include having mask requirements and a reservation system to promote social distancing, “because you want to make sure that you’re not going to be in a position where you’re exposed to a lot of people,” he says.
The nearly 100-year-old Honey Pot Hill Orchards in Stow, Mass., is doing just that. The orchard opened in mid-July to welcome pick-your-own-produce visitors with hand-washing sinks, hand sanitizer stations, plexiglass shields to separate staff and customers, and reservations to promote social distancing.
“Lucky for us, most of our business is already outside,” says Chelcie Martin, Honey Pot Hill’s fourth-generation owner.
Martin says that her advice to people going to farms this fall is to wear a mask throughout their visit and to come on a weekday. Because of their social distancing efforts, the orchard can’t accommodate as many people as normal on weekends.
“I think it’s important for people to understand, as with most businesses open during covid, that we’re doing our best,” Martin says. “It’s not going to be perfect, and it’s not going to be exactly as it has been previously.”
The same is true for checking out farmers markets. Many are implementing limited entry or are not allowing customers to touch produce.
“Especially during fall, the market is as much of a tourist attraction as it is a place for New Yorkers to partake in seasonal festivities — from selecting your pumpkin to enjoying an apple cider,” Jennifer Falk, executive director of Union Square Partnership, which works with the Union Square Greenmarket, said in an email. “Union Square is proud to offer a wonderful, safe fall shopping experience, so we encourage visitors and locals to come visit us this season.”
Before you go to a brewery this fall, make sure you can drink outdoors, and stay vigilant about wearing a mask when you’re not actively drinking.
“I’m usually hesitant when it comes to breweries, especially their indoor breweries,” Tran says. “We know that bars tend to be a place where people can become infected with coronavirus.”
Outdoor options aren’t a problem at Devils Backbone Brewing Company in Roseland, Va. In the fall, visitors flock to the site at the foothills of the Shenandoah Valley for its brewery, restaurant and 75 campsites.
Devils Backbone COO Hayes Humphreys says that because of the pandemic, they’re alternating campsites to promote more social distancing between groups and that they’re operating their restaurant and tastings fully outdoors.
“We’re even piloting a new program where you can use a QR code to kind of self-order,” he says. “We’ll just run the food out to you, as well. In that case, you really don’t interact with the server.”
Anyone visiting a brewery this fall should check their website or social media ahead of time, Humphreys says, as rules can change and places may be reservation-only.
“The other thing I would selfishly ask everyone is just to have a lot of empathy for folks that are working in restaurants right now,” he adds. “Everything that our staff and our servers are doing requires significantly more effort. So everybody’s tired, and they’re stressed.”
Fire up the 2020 fall foliage map to plan any leaf-peeping adventures this year. Once you’ve figured out where to go, check the travel restrictions on that state’s government website. You may need to wear a mask while you’re in public or go through a quarantine on arrival.
“When you’re walking around, if you’re in an area where you can social distance like a park or on a hiking trail, you don’t have to wear a mask,” says Marissa Bell, the public relations manager at Chattanooga Tourism Co. in Tennessee. “But entering any businesses within Hamilton County, any restaurants, things like that, there is a mask mandate in place.”
Many of the leaf-peeping attractions in Chattanooga, like river boat and train rides, are offering limited ticketing for visitors to promote social distancing. Bell recommends getting tickets online at least a week in advance, because they may sell out.
While you’re out in the great outdoors leaf peeping, try to maintain social distance from other hikers, bikers and peepers.
State and county fairs
Check to see if your fair is still happening this year and what safety precautions it has in place if so. Some fairs have been offering fair food to go. Many were canceled, while others are still figuring out how to salvage some of the season while operating safely.
At the Utah State Fair in September, new protocols included offering ticket sales and food ordering online or through a fair app; requiring all guests to wear masks; reducing indoor dining and sanitizing tables and chairs after each use; not allowing cash transactions; and turning away visitors who appear sick.
Additionally, the fair’s vendors had to complete a health questionnaire and go through temperature checks daily before entering the fairground.
As vineyard leaves change with the cold, wineries can be exceptionally beautiful to visit during the fall. Not only have wineries across the country had to face pandemic challenges, but those on the West Coast have also had to endure a year of overwhelming fires.
“I would say that Napa, as an industry and as a valley, is pretty resilient,” says Kris Kraner, the director of sales and marketing for Mayacamas, a Napa Valley vineyard and winery business that was founded in 1889 and severely damaged in Northern California’s 2017 fires.
When the pandemic hit, the brand expanded its downtown Napa tasting room to accommodate more visitors outside. Its winemaker, Braiden Albrecht, built new tasting areas with picnic tables around the Mount Veeder estate.
“My advice would be to stay safe. Wear your mask and also plan ahead,” says Kraner, as most wine country wineries and tasting rooms are reservation-only at the moment.
Tran says it’s going to be a difficult year for haunted houses.
“Many businesses that have usually hosted Halloween houses are not hosting them this year,” Tran says. “I think they have very good reason for making that call, because again, these are indoor spaces.”
Tran doesn’t recommend going to a haunted house this year unless the attraction is offering an outdoor experience, like a corn maze, while keeping crowd control in mind.
Another coronavirus fall alternative is drive-through haunted experiences, during which you can stay in your car. In Los Angeles, Experiential Supply Co. is hosting its first Haunt’Oween LA from Oct. 9 to Oct. 31 on Topanga Canyon Boulevard in the Woodland Hills neighborhood. However, if visitors have their windows down during the spooky drive-through, they must wear masks.