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North Carolina health officials release guidelines for fall-related events

Organizers of fall-related events will have to create and implement a plan to minimize the opportunity for COVID-19 transmission.

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina health officials have released guidelines for North Carolinians as they participate in fall-related activities.

The guidelines show that due to COVID-19, Phase 2.5 restrictions prohibit hayrides, train rides, and any fair-type games.  

The guidelines say capacity will be limited to 50% at places like pumpkin patches, apple orchards, and animal attractions.  

"Any scenario in which people gather together poses a risk for COVID-19 transmission," NCDHHS said. "This includes fall-related events in North Carolina such as outdoor activities at farms, pumpkin patches, haunted houses/trails, and agritourism events." 

The new guidelines also place mass gathering limits on corn mazes and outdoor haunted trails, saying no more than 50 people are allowed at one time.  

Organizers of fall-related events will have to create and implement a plan to minimize the opportunity for COVID-19 transmission. The guidance below will help organizers reduce the spread of COVID-19 in their communities.

“We will have an employee standing at the front of the maze counting the number of people that go in and then at the exit,” said Bonnie Griffin, owner of Aw Shucks Farm in Monroe, N.C.  

Griffin said she’s been busy preparing the farm to reopen this fall, saying the farm has lost significant revenue since the pandemic hit in March.  

“It’s crucial to our livelihood for us to be able to have a fall and for us to be able to be here next year,” she said, adding many of the new NCDHHS guidelines are safety precautions the farm has already been taking.  

“Hand sanitizer is something we’ve been buying for years, we’ve had handwashing stations and so to be honest looking at the list of rules it’s not surprising and it’s something we can easily accommodate and we think we’re ready to go,” she said.

Griffin said the farm sits on 40 acres, making capacity requirements a non-issue. 

“We’ve also added some new attractions this year for people to be able to spread out, so we added an apple bin, we’ve also added a blacksmith, so what that does is it allows families to go off into other areas and stay away from other people,” she said.  

For other farms, however, a hayride or wagon ride is the attraction and the new guidelines prohibiting them could be costly.  

“Well let's just be honest, you really can’t make a living farming anymore, so you have to have added attractions,” says Nancy Anderson, owner of Hunter Farm in Weddington, N.C.  

The farm has been in Anderson’s family for more than 150 years and is comprised of more than 50 acres. 

Anderson said they rely on the wagon ride to take visitors throughout the farm.  

“We’ll still have our pumpkin patch open, we’ll still have our flowers for sale that are growing but not being able to share the rides, that’s the vast majority of our income right there,” she said.  

Anderson said the farm is an educational farm, also offering summer camps, outdoor classrooms, and community gardens. She said she’s been operating safely all summer, reducing capacity and sanitizing between each ride.  

“It’s a 24-foot wagon, 8 feet wide,” she says noting that riders are safely distanced 8 feet apart.  

“We’re not an amusement ride, you’re on an educational farm tour when you come here,” she says, saying she’ll be looking for further clarification from the state.  

Fall-related events are required to:

  •  For pumpkin patches, apple orchards, animal attractions, and retail areas: limit to 50% of stated fire capacity or 12 people per 1,000 square feet if there is not a fire code number AND ensure sufficient social distancing with at least 6-foot separation between groups other than those in their household.
  • For corn mazes or outdoor haunted trails, people cannot cluster in groups larger than the current mass gathering limit. Monitor to allow people in as others exit during peak times AND ensure sufficient social distancing with at least 6-foot separation between groups other than those in their household.
  • All other group activities such as tours, receptions or parties are subject to the mass gathering limits.
  • Post the reduced “Emergency Maximum Capacity” in a conspicuous place. Sign templates are available in English and Spanish on NC DHHS COVID-19 response site.
  • Post signage at the main entrance that reminds people to stay 6 feet apart. ❑ NC DHHS Know Your Ws provides English, Spanish, Combined English and Spanish versions of the “Wait” flyer.
  • Clearly provide 6 feet floor markings in waiting areas, animal viewing areas, check-out lines, and other areas where people may congregate or wait.
  • Follow the DHHS Interim Guidance for Restaurants for reopening restaurants or concession stands. Bars must remain closed. It is recommended that fall-related events:
  • Close giant slides, bounce houses, and jumping pillows to reduce opportunities for people to gather and come in close contact with each other. If open, ensure individuals wait at least 6 ft apart before their turn and ensure proper cleaning and disinfection.
  • Utilize self-check-in or place barrier/partition between ticket/check in areas and customers.
  • Clearly mark designated entry and exit points to the extent possible.
  • Close all common seating areas, lounge areas, and other areas that promote individuals gathering in groups.
  • Develop reservation times to the extent possible to help limit wait times and lines.
  • Develop and use systems that allow for online, email, or phone transactions.
  • Discontinue use of drinking directly from water fountains and provide disposable cups or labeled water bottles for individuals when using any water fountains. 

Activities closed due to COVID-19 

Based on Executive Order 163, the following activities must remain closed through Phase 2.5: 

  • Indoor Haunted Houses
  • Train Rides (conducted for amusement purposes only)
  • Mechanical or Structural Rides and Mechanically Operated Carousels
  • Fair-Type Games and Gaming Activities Hayrides (conducted for amusement purposes only) 

Status on Charlotte-area farms

Please contact WCNC Charlotte at newstips@wcnc.com if you would like your farm's information listed.