Syracuse, N.Y. — Onondaga County health officials are taking a harder look at the potential for coronavirus spread at apple orchards, pumpkin patches and other “agritourism” sites in the wake of news that five people tested positive for Covid-19 after visiting Beak & Skiff orchard Saturday in LaFayette.
Hundreds of people, including the group of infected individuals, milled the grounds during picture-perfect weather Saturday at Beak & Skiff Apple Farms, a scenario that could easily repeat itself during the upcoming holiday weekend.
The orchard and other agritourism businesses are not limited by the governor’s general order restricting gatherings to 50 people, county spokesman Justin Sayles said. Instead, they can allow visitors up to 33% of normal capacity, according to state health department regulations.
Beak & Skiff, one of the biggest and best-known orchards in the country, can accommodate roughly 6,000 people under normal conditions and 2,000 or so even under the state’s coronavirus restrictions, Sayles said.
With the potential for hundreds of people in one place, mask-wearing and social distancing are especially important to prevent virus transmission, Sayles said. It’s a tricky situation to monitor, because visitors are only required to wear masks if they are within six feet of someone who is not in their party, Sayles said. The syracuse.com photo above, taken Sept. 26, shows many patrons without masks.
County officials have received at least two recent complaints against Beak & Skiff alleging that the orchard has failed to comply with some aspect of the state regulations to prevent coronavirus, Sayles said. Details of the complaints were not immediately available. Sayles said county lawyers will send a letter today notifying Beak & Skiff of the complaints and warning the company it could be fined if investigators verify a violation of state rules.
County inspectors plan to beef up their monitoring and enforcement efforts over the holiday weekend in hopes of preventing outbreaks, Sayles said. They will monitor a variety of businesses, including agritourism sites.
The five people who tested positive after visiting the Beak & Skiff orchard on Route 80 were together in a group, county officials said. They wore masks except while dining indoors, county officials said. The group also rode a tractor-pulled wagon to the U-pick orchard, county officials said.
“Riders were seated close together, which raises the risk of exposure,” the health department said in a news release. According to state health regulations, participants on wagon rides should be kept six feet apart.
Company officials at Beak & Skiff could not immediately be reached for comment.
Contact tracers have not discovered any additional cases of Covid-19 linked to the group as of this morning, Sayles said. Because it’s impossible to identify every individual the group may have contacted, county health officials warned anyone who was at the orchard Saturday to be on the lookout for symptoms of illness.
A similar warning went out to the public last week about a hayride at Tim’s Pumpkin Patch in the town of Marcellus. A person who took a hayride Sept. 26 later tested positive for coronavirus.