While the novel coronavirus may have people canceling big graduation bashes, birthday parties, or other large get-togethers this season, as many states start to reopen and allow small gatherings of up to 10 people, homeowners are more than ready to break out the grill and have a little fun.
While meeting with anyone outside your home’s inhabitants could raise your exposure levels to COVID-19, meeting outdoors has lower risks than convening inside, due to increased air circulation.
“As long as you’ve been quarantined and are meeting with others who’ve followed similar practices, it makes the situation low-risk for transmission of the virus,” says Andrew Janowski, M.D., an instructor in pediatric infectious diseases at Washington University School of Medicine.
Furthermore, there are many things you can do during your gathering to keep it as safe as possible. So if you’re determined to do some true face time with your friends or family, here’s how to host a socially distant backyard barbecue or gathering that can help keep everyone as safe as possible this summer.
Spread wide—even outside
Don’t sit on top of one another—instead, double up on furniture, with a picnic table and a folding table so each family has its own personal space.
“Talking induces significant production of saliva droplets from the mouth, but being outdoors helps reduce the chances that the virus could spread more so than in a confined space,” says Janowski.
“Arrange seating that forces social distancing, so a table that usually fits six people should be set up for four,” says Andrea Correale of Elegant Affairs Catering. This way, your guests will see you’re being responsible and sensitive to the situation and they’ll feel more relaxed, she adds.
Make it BYO
Communal bowls of macaroni salad should give you pause, so let your guests know it’s BYO food.
“Using any shared utensils and dishes comes with the risk of spreading the virus as does congregating near the food, so remember to maintain social distancing even when you’re hungry,” says Janowski.
With the BYO option, families can sit apart with their own snacks and watermelon and you won’t have to worry about the virus on bowls and platters.
“You absolutely should not share any side dishes—it’s just not worth the risk,” says Janet Morgan, M.D., an internal medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic.
Highlight hand washing
Upon arrival, direct guests to an easily accessible spot to wash up like the kitchen sink.
“It’s better than a bathroom since there’s no contact with door handles,” says Bill Taradash, owner and head chef at The Party Box Caterers.
Or offer those little wet wipes you get with a lobster dinner or other hand-sanitizing cloths.
“Try to keep it light and funny, with a cute sign by the sink so people don’t feel like they’re eating in a hospital,” he says.
Designate a guest bath
Rather than have every bathroom in the house be available to your guests, announce that one is open for use and direct people there (or hang a sign on the door so it’s clear). This way, you have to disinfect only a small area after people have departed.
Serve everything grilled
If you’d rather not deal with the BYO option, you might consider making the whole menu a grilled affair. Heat renders the virus inactive, says Janowski.
Ideas to try: kielbasa, brats, burgers, and veggies of every kind (e.g., eggplant slices, peppers, onions, and planks of summer squash and zucchini).
“Designate one person as the grill server, and have him or her wear a mask and gloves to handle the serving spoon and fork, and then he should remove the gloves after serving,” says Taradash.
For additional safety, serve the food straight off the grill so it doesn’t have a chance to pick up any germs on a serving plate being passed back and forth.
Skip dips—and use disposables
Now is not the time for one big bowl of guacamole or salsa.
“If you want to serve chips and dip, make individual cups or plates to pass out,” says Taradash.
Correale likes tiny Lucite vessels, votive holders, or paper cones for holding crudités, cheese and crackers, and even shrimp cocktail.
And individual bottles of lemonade, iced tea, and beer are better than a keg, large urn, or pitcher that everyone has to handle.
“Disposable plates and utensils are safer, too, and if you can offer eco ware like paper and bamboo over plastic, then all the better,” adds Taradash.
Choose games carefully
Badminton is a yes; football or any contact sport, no. Pick activities that allow for some distance among players, like a game of whiffle ball or throwing a Frisbee back and forth.
And if you have a swimming pool, go ahead and dive in. Water itself isn’t a conduit of COVID-19, but the CDC does recommend providing enough kickboards and pool noodles to cut down on the the need to share them, and potentially spread germs.
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