How safe is it to enjoy your favorite fall activities, like trick-or-treating, apple picking, and visiting a pumpkin patch? Medical experts weigh in.

By Skye Sherman
September 14, 2020
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The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered life as we know it. Through spring and summer, we’ve endured, making the best of lockdowns, quarantines, and stay-at-home restrictions. 

But now that autumn is on the horizon, should we expect to miss out on our favorite fall traditions? We turned to medical experts for advice on which fall activities are safe and which are probably best to skip this year while the pandemic lingers on.

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Is it safe to go trick-or-treating this fall?

Part of the fun of trick-or-treating is being able to pal around with friends and family, getting face to face with neighbors, and digging your hands into endless bowls of candy — all things that, in the era of COVID-19, aren’t such a good idea.

“This type of situation makes social distancing very difficult and exposes participants to multiple non-household members,” says Dr. Joseph A. Giaimo, a South Florida pulmonologist and president-elect for the American Osteopathic Association. “With numerous people reaching in and out of a container, it creates a high-touch area that should be avoided.”

Since trick-or-treating typically involves traveling from house to house, going door to door, and having close interactions with strangers passing out candy, it’s not your safest option when it comes to fall activities. But if you’re going to do it, take necessary precautions.

One option may be to leave candy outside in a bowl or basket to limit face-to-face interactions, Dr. Giaimo says. Houses that plan on giving out candy could also package treats into individual grab-and-go baggies for trick-or-treaters to pick up without touching anything else.

“Unfortunately, I do not think there is any safe way to go trick-or-treating this year,” adds Dr. Nadeen White, physician and blogger at The Sophisticated Life. “Even with masks and gloves on, there will be a lot of handling of candy, toys, containers, and other goodies — at some point during these exchanges, something can become contaminated. It’s just not worth the risk.”

As a fun alternative, she suggests a candy scavenger hunt at home.

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Is it safe to visit a pumpkin patch this fall?

“Visiting a pumpkin patch this fall will be challenging, and it may be best to cross this one off your fall to-do list,” says Dr. Giaimo. “Pumpkin patches are traditionally set up for guests to walk around and pick up items on display, creating an environment of high-touch surfaces.” 

According to Dr. Giaimo, avoiding your local pumpkin patch is probably the best bet this season, unless there are strict cleaning and social-distancing protocols in place.

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Is it safe to go apple picking this fall?

Like visiting a pumpkin patch, the safety of going apple picking this fall will depend on the situation, the facility, and your own preventative measures. 

“Since both [visiting] pumpkin patches and apple picking are outdoor activities, I do think it’s possible to do them in a safe manner,” says Dr. White. “But I think it depends on the policies the facilities have in place.”

For example, she says to ask the following questions: Is there timed entry to limit the amount of people entering the patch or farm? Is there social distancing? Are there screening procedures in place for employees or visitors to make sure anyone who is ill or with fever is not allowed to enter? 

“Wear masks, use a lot of hand sanitizer, and if possible, wash your hands regularly,” Dr. White recommends. “People will be handling a lot of the apples and pumpkins, and there may also be rides and picture booths at these facilities. You want to make sure to keep your hands as clean as possible and away from your face. As always, stay away from anyone who appears to be ill.”

Is it safe to go leaf-peeping this fall?

Driving around to see the leaves as they turn from vibrant green to warm oranges, reds, and yellows is one of the best ways to mark the change in seasons. 

Luckily, according to Dr. Giaimo, leaf-peeping — as long as it involves driving around in a car with family or household members and sticking close to home — is a low-risk and reasonably safe fall activity to enjoy during the pandemic.

“However, if we add in air travel or hotel stays, the risk of exposure increases,” he warns. “Travelers should be vigilant about following recommended precautions to prevent interactions with non-household members and exposure to others.”

Planning a road trip to go leaf-peeping can also be a low-risk way to travel this fall, as long as you take proper precautions.

Is it safe to visit a corn maze this fall?

Both medical experts agree that visiting a corn maze during the pandemic is a reasonably safe activity, as long as participants can socially distance and wear protective face coverings. Keep away from others and avoid touching anything, even the stalks of corn.

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Is it safe to go hiking this fall?

When it comes to safe fall activities during the pandemic, another good option is hiking, as it allows for social distancing, low-touch interactions, and lots of fresh air. Best of all, you can hike in all 50 states. Plus, physical activity helps to keep your immune system strong, and spending time outdoors is good for your health.

Still, Dr. Giaimo says, “It’s important to socially distance from other hikers and non-household members when you hit the trails.”

Is it safe to go camping this fall?

Got cabin fever and a longing for the great outdoors? Camping is the perfect solution for a safe getaway during a pandemic.

“Camping, especially at national parks, is very popular right now, so I recommend reserving a spot at a campground way in advance,” says Dr. White. 

You could also go the camper route, but do some research first. “Make sure campers are spaced far apart and that you have access to clean bathing and bathroom facilities,” she says. “As always, bring ample supplies — toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizers.”

Is it safe to rent a cabin in the woods this fall?

“Renting a cabin in the woods this fall is relatively safe, as long as the homeowner provides a safe and clean property,” says Dr. Giaimo. 

Of course, it also depends on your unique health situation, he says. “If you or someone you’re traveling with has certain underlying medical conditions, the risk exposure through renting a cabin this fall increases, but it comes down to the cleaning standards in place at the rental property,” he adds.

Dr. Giaimo recommends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a credible source of guidance for cleaning and disinfecting your rental accommodations.

Overall, if you don’t feel comfortable taking part in the usual fall festivities, don’t worry — you can still make the best of the season by cozying up with a good book, baking fall treats, binging on Halloween movies, and lighting fall-scented candles throughout your home.