Several states that relaxed stay-at-home orders and reopened businesses between mid-May and early June saw surges in COVID-19 cases shortly thereafter, and restrictions are once again being imposed in many places, including California.
The fact is, there will be a risk of spreading and/or contracting coronavirus until we have a widely administered and effective vaccine. In the meanwhile, it will be crucial to follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) social distancing guidelines and to keep abreast of your state and county guidelines as well.
When it comes to deciding whether or not to host (or attend) a gathering of any size this summer, “First and foremost, it is best to know what your local and state public health departments are saying about the reopening of your area,” says Registered Dietitian Anne-Marie Gloster.
“If you happen to live in a current hot spot, then having a BBQ might be ill-advised,” Gloster adds. “If you are in an area with low rates of infections and the public health department is saying that ‘groups of a certain number may gather,’ then you can consider a BBQ.”
If gatherings will be allowed in your state, you’ll likely be able to host or attend a BBQ this summer—but experts say there are some precautions you should take should you choose to do so.
Keep reading for seven smart safety tips to keep in mind should you decide to host an outdoor party this season:
Keep a Safe Distance
We’re sure you’ve heard this about 100 times (or more) since the pandemic broke out, but should you host or attend a BBQ this summer, it’s a good idea to keep a safe distance of preferably six feet from other party goers.
If you’re hosting, you can be sure to spread out the seats where people will be sitting and eating. That way, you won’t have to be constantly reminding people to keep their distance. Instead, you can simply point out that you’ve set up the party that way and tell everyone to please respect the rules.
You Make the Rules
If you’re hosting the party, you set the rules, explains Richard S. Garfein, a professor and infectious disease epidemiologist at the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, UC San Diego.
That means you get to say what the safety rules will be at your BBQ gathering. “While it might make the host feel unwelcoming, it really helps set the tone for everyone if the host models proper safety practices,” Garfein says.
“If you greet your guests wearing a mask and avoid shaking hands or hugging, it lets everyone know that you are taking precautions seriously to protect your friends and loved ones,” Garfein adds.
Also, if your guests offer to help clean up, you can kindly decline. Why? Because cleaning up “usually involves carrying serving items into the house,” Garfein says.
“If guests are insistent, let them move items closer to the house to make it easier for the host to bring them inside,” Garfein adds. This way, you won’t have to have people inside and out of your actual home.
And, although it’s not the most environmentally friendly party trick, you could also “consider using disposable items and put out a trash can so guests can clean after themselves, and try to use paper rather than plastic products to minimize the environmental impact,” Garfein says.
Keep Your Party Outdoors
To go along with the above recommendation that you keep your BBQ party outdoors—rather than allowing guests to enter the interior of your home—you may need to get creative if you don’t have adequate backyard space. You can always arrange for you and your guests to meet up at a local park. Or, you could “see if there are any other outdoor venues in your local area, such as drive-in theaters,” Gloster says.
“I loved these as a kid and it’s a nice way to be with people, and not, at the same time,” Gloster adds.
Plan Your BBQ Activities Carefully
When hosting a BBQ, you should also “think about what people will be doing when not eating,” Garfein says.
You should think twice about any games that involve touching common objects. For example, planning for a game of croquet (which involves mallets), playing cards, Frisbees, or otherwise can spread the virus and should be avoided.
“If any activities involve touching shared objects or surfaces, put out some hand sanitizer and remind everyone to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth until they’ve disinfected their hands,” Garfein says.
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For an activity that doesn’t involve touching common objects, consider “creating your own outdoor viewing party at home with a projector and point it at a blank wall on the outside of your house or garage,” Gloster says. “Or, you could hang up a white sheet to make a screen.”
Additionally, while it may be a bit of a bummer, Garfein says it’s also a good idea to avoid using pools or hot tubs during this time if you’re worried about spreading the virus.
If you do decide to swim, “make sure the chlorine level is correct on the day of the BBQ,” Garfein says. “Also, you shouldn’t share towels, goggles, masks, [or] snorkels.”
Consider How Many People You Invite
While it might sound obvious, you should also consider how many guests you choose to invite.
This will of course come down to how many people can be accommodated in your outdoor space while also physically distancing.
“People should have room to spread out,” Garfein says. “If possible, encourage guests to sit in the same place rather than moving to a new seat after getting up to use the bathroom, grab a drink, or otherwise.”
Wash Your Hands Often and Wear a Protective Mask
Another tip that may seem obvious—but that’s super important—is for you and your guests to wash your hands often.
“If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry,” according to the CDC.
Additionally, the CDC recommends wearing a cloth mask when hanging out in public settings. This is both to protect yourself and to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“It is not unreasonable to ask that all guests wear masks when they are not eating or drinking,” Gloster says. “Providing themed masks, or masks with everyone’s names on them, can take the place of nametags and provide conversation starters.”
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But, if you want guests to bring their own masks to wear, make sure to let them know ahead of time.
Get Everyone’s Contact Information
It’s also important to have a list on hand of all of your attendees’ contact information.
Why? “ If anyone at the party learns that they have COVID-19 after the gathering, they will be asked by the health department for the names and contact information of everyone they were in close contact with during the past two weeks,” Garfein says.
This is so that health workers can notify the contacts and advise them to self-quarantine to avoid spreading the virus to others if they are also infected. “The fewer close contacts, the easier this process is and the fewer potential new cases,” Garfein adds.
To be extra safe, you can always reach out to your attendees prior to your BBQ and let them know that if they are feeling ill, to please stay home on the day of the gathering.
The Bottom Line
Should you decide to host a BBQ this summer, it’s important to know that all of these precautions will likely make the vibe of your gathering feel different than it normally would.
“However, until the pandemic ends, having the peace of mind that these special visits with friends and family won’t result in clusters of new COVID-19 cases should make it all worthwhile,” Garfein says.
This story was originally published in June; it has been updated to reflect current information and guidelines.
Header image courtesy of Brett Stevens / Image Source / Getty Images