6 Steps to Hosting a Safe Summer Party

If you’re planning to entertain at home during the pandemic, here’s what you need to know.

backyard grilling

Updated on June 26, 2020.

As the weather gets warmer, the allure of gathering with friends to eat, drink and be merry is getting stronger. The good news is that having people over for a backyard party or barbeque is doable, as long as you follow a few sensible protocols.

First things first: Think about whether you should be entertaining to begin with. Factors to consider—both for yourself and on behalf of the folks with whom you live or have regular contact—include:

  • Age: We know that older people are at higher risk for serious illness from  COVID-19.
  • Overall health: Having underlying conditions—such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or a compromised immune system—can make getting COVID-19 particularly dangerous.
  • Community: The more widespread the disease is in the place you live, the higher the risk of getting sick if you gather with others.

Know that socializing in close quarters with anyone outside of your “bubble”—the people you live with—presents a certain amount of hazard. If you’ve assessed your risk tolerance and are comfortable playing host, take these steps to help keep you, your family and your guests safe.

Run the numbers

To determine how many people to invite, start by checking your state and local guidelines regarding limits on gatherings. While most states permit 10 or more people to gather indoors—with greater allowance for outdoors—rising case numbers in many areas of the country could prompt officials to reintroduce more stringent rules.

Next, consider how many guests you can fit comfortably in your space while maintaining social distance—that is, 6 feet between members of different households.

Your risk tolerance and space will guide the number of people you invite, but 10 is a good starting point, says Anthony Harris, MD, Chief Innovation Officer and Medical Director of WorkCare, a company that advises facilities on reopening during the pandemic. For each guest you add, he notes, the risk of transmission grows.

“Obviously, the best answer is as minimal as possible,” Dr. Harris says. Sticking to 10 or fewer helps keep the risk to a reasonably low level.

Identify your attendees

If you have safely expanded your social circle to select neighbors who have also been mindful of their contacts, you might have your 10 guests right there, Harris says.

If you haven’t made that kind of pact with others and this is your first foray into expanding your bubble, consider limiting invites to close friends with whom you’ve been keeping in contact or people who you know are taking the same care as you.

Request RSVPs… plus a little more info

Consider inviting people via email. This will allow you to ask guests questions about their exposure and whether they have experienced symptoms. It goes without saying that you should, in a very friendly way, remind guests to stay home if they have COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed to anyone with the illness in the previous 14 days.

“What we know from the behavioral side of medicine,” says Harris, “is that the more you mention something, the more that it manifests in their frontal lobe”—a part of the brain involved in emotional control, judgment and problem-solving. “This is what’s cognitively equipping them to make an appropriate decision.”

By mentioning symptoms in your invite—or referring them to trusted sources of information—you may also make them aware of signs they didn’t realize could be related to COVID-19, such as a sore throat, diarrhea or a recent bout of nausea. “Hopefully, this won’t be frowned upon by your guests,” Harris says. “It’s just part of the cultural experience built into the process of gathering people these days.”

Your invite is also a good platform to address face coverings and other social distancing measures you’ll be asking your guests to follow. You might also remind your guests that as much as you’d love to hug them, you’ll be waving instead. Clearly state your house rules so there’s no ambiguity when folks arrive.

Lastly, remember to keep a copy of your guest list should someone at the party fall ill. In that case, you may need to work with contact tracers to help curb the spread of infection.

Create and plan the menu

Know that food itself isn’t a risk for spreading SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—but the way it’s served can be. The key is limiting touch. The safest move is to have your guests bring their own food, drinks and utensils. If you prefer to do the cooking, keep the following in mind:

Skip finger food. Chips and dips are too communal. The same goes for crudites and cheese platters. If you must have finger foods, opt for pre-packaged portions.

Go disposable. For ease and peace of mind, use single-use plates and utensils. Lay everything out so guests can help themselves. Better still, wrap cutlery in individual bundles to minimize touching, Harris suggests.

Self-serve. While the famed buffets of Las Vegas may be fading away, this form of food service can still work for your gathering. Harris suggests avoiding communal serving utensils; instead, have your guests use their own (clean) utensils to serve themselves. “That way everyone's using a fresh utensil versus touching the same one,” he says.

An alternative is having one designated server. This may mean more work for you, but “it’s a process people are used to and a way to minimize touch,” Harris notes.

Put out packets. Ketchup, mustard and other condiments pose challenges, touch-wise. This is when small restaurant packets can be helpful. If you can’t find packets, pour sauces and seasonings in mini paper cups that guests can easily grab.

Drink smart. Individual beverages are your best bet. Set out separate coolers for each offering—water bottles in one, soda in another, iced tea in another—so guests aren’t rummaging around. Safer still is to go the BYOB route: Have each family bring their own cooler with the drinks they want.

Prepare the house

Once the invites are sent and the menu is planned, it’s time to set up the venue, with the overriding goals of limiting surface touching and promoting social distancing.

If it will be difficult to maintain 6 feet of distance between your guests at all times, Harris and other health experts advise requiring face coverings. But there are ways to follow this practice while avoiding a clinical feel.

“This could be a perfect time to have a masquerade ball type of event, where people are expected to come with creatively decorated masks,” Harris says. “By making face masks part of the experience, it becomes a social norm rather than a source of awkwardness or uneasiness.”

Setting up outdoors is always preferable to indoors because the airflow is better, enabling virus particles to disperse more effectively. Seating should be strategically arranged so couples and families can stay together. Consider assigning one household per table or seating area and try to keep groups at least 6 feet apart.

It’s also smart to have a rain-out policy in case of a sudden shower. It may sound harsh, but the best option is to have your guests head for the exits rather than crowd inside your home. If you must have friends huddle indoors for a short period, make sure to keep the space ventilated and remind everyone to wear their masks.

Your party’s spatial layout should enable guests to move through the area while touching as little as possible. For instance, trash cans should be left open and in areas that are easy to access—not indoors, which will require people to grab doorknobs.

You will, of course, need to let guests inside to use the bathroom. Stock each restroom with soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol and sanitizing wipes. Leave a note asking guests to use paper towels to open doors and turn off faucets and request that they swab down surfaces with the wipes. You can also hand out small bottles of hand sanitizer so guests can use it when washing isn’t available.

Winding down

Before you know it, the evening will be over, you’ll be saying fond farewells—and the important work of cleaning and disinfecting will begin. But in the meantime, take a deep breath, relax and enjoy yourself and your company. You earned it.

Article sources open article sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): People Who Are at Increased Risk for Severe Illness.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Personal and Social Activities: Hosting gatherings or cook-outs.” Updated June 15, 2020.
Dena Bunis and Jenny Rough. “List of Coronavirus-Related Restrictions in Every State.” AARP. Updated June 25, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Considerations for Events and Gatherings.”
Kristin Salaky. “You May Be Able To Have A Barbecue This Summer, But It Will Take Some Planning And Precautions.” Delish. June 5, 2020.

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