Virus Experts Say They Still Won't Do These 4 Fall Activities

·6 min read

As the colder weather rolls in, we're all feeling eager to spend this fall and winter season differently than we did last year. COVID vaccinations are available to adults and teens across the U.S., and health officials expect that children as young as five will be able to get vaccinated in the next month or so. Case numbers are also steadily declining. But this doesn't mean there aren't still risks. While fully vaccinated people are very protected against infection, there is still a chance of getting COVID, and a very small percentage of breakthrough infections can become severe. With that in mind, some virus experts urge taking a bit of extra caution while the virus continues to spread. We asked these experts about the fall activities they say they're still holding off on this year, as well as the ones they'll be participating in. Read on to find out what four activities you might also want to skip during the 2021 season.

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Health officials have said fall and winter holiday gatherings are safe for vaccinated people.

In the U.S., COVID cases have fallen by more than 12 percent over the last week, while hospitalizations have decreased by more than 8 percent, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Amid these falling numbers, top White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, has said that vaccinated families should feel free to spend the holidays in a somewhat normal fashion. "For groups that are vaccinated, I think we can enjoy the holiday season," he said during an Oct. 17 interview on Fox News Sunday. "You know, trick-or-treating on Halloween, Thanksgiving with the family. When you're in the family unit among people who are vaccinated, I think you should just enjoy the holidays as best you can in the family spirit."

According to Fauci, the biggest risk during holiday gatherings comes from being unvaccinated. "It's so important to get vaccinated, because not only will it be good for your own health and that of your family, it will make it much easier for you to enjoy the kinds of things in society that you'd like to enjoy anyway," he said. In new holiday guidance posted Oct. 15, the CDC affirmed that being vaccinated is the best way to minimize COVID risk during the holidays.

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But virus experts say there are four fall activities they still won't participate in.

If you're vaccinated, you don't need to stay at home this year to stay safe. Nevertheless, virus experts say there are four fall activities they still won't be participating in this year: going to a haunted house or maze, attending a fair or carnival, visiting a pumpkin patch, and bobbing for apples.

William Li, MD, a physician, virus expert, and medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation, says he won't go to a haunted house this year, as this activity is usually held in a close, indoor space with "uncertain ventilation, people screaming and emitting droplets, and people who are hiding at distances" others cannot see. On the other end, while fairs or carnivals are typically hosted outside, they are often very crowded, according to Li. "The risk is much greater when in a crowd, or in densely packed indoors spaces where someone may carry the virus," he explains.

And while Li says he would go to a pumpkin patch, other experts such as Erica Susky, an infection control practitioner in hospital epidemiology, says this is an activity you should still skip if the crowds are too large.

When it comes to apple bobbing, almost all virus experts are in agreement: It's too risky. "Bobbing for apples is activity I'd probably skip," Jyotsna Shah, PhD, virus expert and president of IGeneX Laboratory, says. "It's impossible to do masked, and involves sharing water with many other people, of whom you may not know vaccination status or infection history."

If you do participate in these activities, consider trying to lessen your risk of catching COVID.

It's ultimately up to you what fall activities you're willing to take part in this year, but experts say there are ways to mitigate your chances of getting COVID even if you are participating in some of these riskier activities. "There are plenty of ways you can celebrate the new season, you just may need to take some extra precautions," Shah says, recommending people make use of proper precautions, like "mask wearing, social distancing, and frequent hand washing," especially when it comes to indoor activities or crowded outdoor events.

You might also want to check whether or not the activity you are planning to attend requires proof of vaccination, Susky says, as spaces limited to vaccinated people are significantly safer. Mary Rodgers, PhD, an infectious disease expert and principal scientist at Abbott, a manufacturer of at-home COVID tests, says it might be helpful to take an at-home test before or after certain riskier fall activities as well. "Of course, if you have COVID-19 symptoms, immediately quarantine and get tested—regardless of vaccination status," Shah warns.

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There are other fall activities that virus experts are planning to participate in this year.

Not everything is high risk. Virus experts say there are a few safer fall activities they are most certainly planning to take part in this year. In fact, Rodgers says she will be taking her family to many outdoor fall events, such as trick-or-treating, hay rides, corn mazes, and apple picking. "Apple picking would be a safer activity, as it usually occurs outside in large spaces," Susky adds.

Li says he will still be participating in some of his favorite fall activities, which include "leaf peeping, hiking, meeting with close friends or family who are vaccinated, and occasionally dining al fresco before it gets too cold at a restaurant … where tables are not too closely packed together."

"We are at a very different place this year than last. We know a lot more about how COVID spreads and how to protect ourselves," he adds. "When it comes to fall activities, the good news is that many of them take place outdoors, which is the safest place to be when it comes to not just COVID, but influenza and many other viruses as well."

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