By Dr. Molly O’Dell
I love a cookout. Friends, pasta salad with tomatoes and basil, cicadas and birds in the background– all these make parties a summer highlight. Warm weather presents a tempting opportunity to gather with friends and family outside our immediate households, but social gatherings are one reason we continue to see new cases of COVID-19 spread in our area.
Our local case investigation and contact tracing efforts have revealed that gatherings of friends and family are a primary source of disease spread in our community. While most of us have adopted wearing a face covering while shopping and at work, many people are letting their guard down to gather socially with friends and family without precautions that they take elsewhere, such as wearing face coverings and physical distancing. Some larger events, such as funerals and associated gatherings have constituted “super-spreader events” with just one infected individual spreading disease to many others.
Staying home is safest. But if we go out to socialize, there are better choices to make to keep ourselves, friends and loved ones more safe.
- Outside is safer than inside. Open, outdoor air flow makes gatherings generally safer. Wear face coverings as much as possible, especially when folks are less than six feet apart. When others from outside your household are indoors with you, everyone should wear face coverings at all times.
- Keep it short. More time together is more time for COVID-19 to find its way to you, your friends, or loved ones. Health officials define “close contact” as being within six feet of someone for 15 minutes or more along with some other parameters.
- Make gatherings occasional. Participate in no more than one social gathering per week.
- Don’t go if you are sick. This may be your first chance to see friends and loved ones in a while, but it ought not be your last. If you feel sick at all, even just a little, reschedule.
- Find your 5. Consider limiting in-person gatherings with people from separate households to no more than five individuals at one time. Make sure folks wear face coverings and stay six feet apart.
- One cook, one server, one grill. Ask guests to bring everything they plan to eat and drink OR else plan to do all the work of cooking, serving and cleaning up yourself, just like in a restaurant. Don’t share condiments. This is what I call a COVID cool cookout.
- Keep the path to the bathroom clear. Use paper towels for handwashing and have each person wipe surfaces before and after use.
- Add extra tables to spread out your guests. Space hula hoops six feet apart on the ground to help folks remember to keep their distance.
If you want to plan an in-person gathering, now is the time to get creative:
- Drive-by birthday, retirement, or anniversary parties allow you to decorate your car, wave hello, throw a kiss or hand off a gift in celebration of the special day.
- Throw a block party where everyone brings their own food to enjoy in their own front yards.
Even though you may be craving more in-person interaction, we cannot let down our prevention guard. The main goal stays the same: keep yourself healthy and help the ones you love to avoid getting sick.
*Written with thanks to the Public Health Department of King County (Washington) for their guidelines and suggestions.