Christmas scares Susan Dell’Osso more than Halloween.
And it is all because of what we know and don’t know about COVID-19.
Susan and her husband Ron are partners in arguably the most successful ag-tourism business in California — the Dell’Osso Family Farm.
It’s a patch of 50 acres in Lathrop historically subject to the whims of Mother Nature and how she uses the San Joaquin River just before it passes the Mossdale Crossing to flex her muscles. This is where nearly a quarter of a century ago Ron — an upbeat, innovative farmer with a Tom Sawyer streak a mile wide — along with Susan whose business acronym, optimism, fortitude, and vision — gave birth to the Pumpkin Maze that lured 120,000 people last year alone to wander around in a cornfield, use bazooka like devices to fire off small gourds and engage in enough other wholesome low-tech fun to create lasting memories for young and old alike.
This is also where the two brought snow tubing and outdoor ice skating to a part of California where Frosty the Snowman would be toast in the depth of winter.
The two are a match for the ages. And much like the pioneers that tamed the valley to turn it into the richest agricultural region the world has ever known as well as transformed California in just 170 years from a stunning landscape with 60,000 inhabitants to a stunning landscape with 40 million people that has changed the world from technology and entertainment, challenges are what they live for.
Like the rest of us, they are trying to wrap their heads around a new playing field that the pandemic has created. They aren’t wasting time and energy fuming, bellyaching, acting self-righteous or trying to act as if the world hasn’t changed. Nor are they sitting still and conceding ground.
They are analyzing every phase of their operations just as other businesses are doing. They’re working with the San Joaquin County Health Department and fashioning game plans for both the COVID-19 virus still roaring like a lion come October or if it manages to retreat just enough to give the world some breathing room.
The fact Dell’Osso Family Farm is an outdoor affair helps.
They are prepared to move everything “outdoors” which is essentially the bakery sales area and food service while modifying everything else. The train seats may have plexiglas between. The haunted house may go sans people with technology serving as the instigator of screams and chills down the spine with limited groups passing through at one time.
There are plans for 100 hand sanitizer devices and 50 sheets of 4-by-8-foot plexiglass ready to be cut into protective screens.
The corn maze was planted so that the pathways will be twice as wide and every so often there are areas where people can step aside to let others pass.
They have found an Environment Protection Agency approved chemical for sanitizing that they can use in a spray rig to cover the entire 50 acres every night after the attractions close.
They are making plans and rethinking every solution they come up with to leave no stone unturned for whatever path the pandemic takes with the goal of having everything ready to execute when the time arrives that a decision can be made as to what game plan they can pursue.
The bottom line is they want to do everything possible to keep employees and patrons healthy as well as also make guests feel safe.
So what scares Susan about Holidays on the Farm?
It’s not the challenges of sanitizing and enforcing social distances although how kids will be able to have up close and personal one-on-one time with Santa is likely still a hurdle to conquer.
Having bake shop sales and such outside given the entire idea is to enjoy a brisk day on the farm isn’t an issue.
The problem is the sniffles.
The rules of engagement with COVID-19 are clear. Anyone who shows any symptoms tied to COVID-19 that also are tied to other issues such as the flu or common cold means workers will have to be sent home.
It’s going to be a universal challenge for any employer when the COVID-19 pandemic overlaps with the cold and flu season. You can’t risk what would normally be dismissed as the start of a cold as it could possibly be COVID-19. That means a worker may be sidelined for 14 days.
But regardless of how perplexing their issues might seem, Susan understands the road they are trying to navigate is nothing compared to others such as those in the restaurant business.
If the pandemic conditions force restaurants to eschew indoor dining as fall turns into winter outdoor dining isn’t going to be a viable option.
Everyone who runs a business from Amazon to a mom and pop corner store are still in uncharted territory 148 days into the current health emergency in California.
The health department guidance is constantly changing because there is no firm handle on how COVID-19.
Rather than roll over and wallow in mud — by the way, Ron and Susan haven’t hosted mud runs for several years which would probably be even more difficult to pull off in the middle of a pandemic — the husband and wife team are looking for ways to persevere.
When things shift, they look for new solutions.
They are no different than anyone else trying to keep businesses and families afloat in the world COVID-19 is creating.
It is the countless people like Ron and Susan who are rising to the challenge that will provide the answer to how the economy and COVID-19 can co-exist without carpet bombing the economy into oblivion or having cases spread so rapidly that the healthcare system will be unable to help give people that become gravely ill from the coronavirus a fighting chance.
Those looking for solutions aren’t debating the lawful orders for wearing face masks in specific conditions or the requirement for social distancing even if they harbor doubts about their ultimate effectiveness.
They see such the rancorous debate for what it is — a distraction that simply slows down efforts to find the right balance to keep the economy from collapsing while efforts are underway to tame COVID-19 to the point we can co-exist with it given we will likely never eradicate it.
As for the question Pumpkin Maze aficionados really want to know, the design this year has something to do with a song. They’re keeping the song under wraps for now.
It would be fitting, though, if it was the Steam hit song that would be an ideal send off to the scariest thing that we will encounter this Halloween.
Anyone ready to sing, “na na na na, na na na na, hey, hey, good-bye” to COVID-19?
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.