This summer, nothing is safer than staying home. However, if you decide to see friends or family for socially distant get-togethers, practice certain precautions.
Check safety and medical guidelines from the CDC before gathering with anyone beyond your daily quarantine crew, and consider self-quarantining for two weeks before and after any socializing to protect your community and help flatten the curve.
Here, six tips for a safe socially-distant soirée, according to an epidemiology professor and entertaining expert.
Even on a still day, the air outside is constantly moving which helps dissipate virus-carrying particles and may move them away from guests. But the virus can still be transmitted through close interaction outdoors, says Andreas Handel, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics in University of Georgia’s College of Public Health.
“If someone else is close by, they might potentially inhale [virus-carrying particles],” says Handel. “If the distance is wider, it’s trickier for the virus to travel across to the other person.” This means social distancing is a must for outdoor gatherings.
If guests need to go inside to use the restroom, Handel says that’s O.K. A safe (and courteous) move would be to keep disinfecting spray on the counter for guests to spray surfaces and doorknobs upon entry and exit.
Keep it small.
Talk to your guests ahead of time about what to expect.
“Make sure you emphasize that it is a small group, and be as specific as possible with the names of guests,” says Annette Joseph, stylist and author of several books that include Picture Perfect Parties. “Limit it to small groups and keep the gathering to people you know have been following rules of social distancing.”
There’s no magic number for guest count, but Handel suggests keeping your gatherings as small as possible. “The risk increases with the number of people,” he says. “I don’t think there is a threshold between safe and unsafe.”
Have masks available for your guests.
The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings when in close proximity to others.
When you send invitations, let guests know that masks are required, to stay home if they don’t feel well, and to not bring uninvited guests. Place a rolled-up face mask on each setting in case anyone left their mask at home.
Social distancing is key.
To ensure everyone has enough space, plan the seating arrangements ahead of time. You can use picnic blankets or tape to help mark off designated areas for your guests.
Safety is paramount, but your party can still have flair. Joseph likes to add some charm with place cards that not only add a personal touch, but can also help maintain social distancing. Even some small decorations—like bud vases and votive candles—make your space feel inviting despite safety precautions.
Joseph suggests keeping a bottle of hand sanitizer available near the entrance so guests can sanitize upon arrival. Make sure to also inform guests of sink locations where they can wash their hands with soap and water before joining others.
It’s also important for people to sanitize over the course of the evening, so consider placing bottles throughout the common areas. You can also give mini bottles to your guests to use throughout the gathering, either at the front where they arrive, or situated at place settings with their name on it to avoid any confusion or unintentional sharing.
Plate and portion everything ahead of time.
You might think that it’s better to use disposable paper products, but that’s not necessary.
“If the plates have been run through the dishwasher and people are getting fresh plates, then I think that’s perfectly fine,” says Handel. He recommends against communal food and drink, though. No chips and dip.
Joseph suggests an aperitivo-style gathering. Serve appetizers like a variety of crostini and endive with blue cheese, and arrange them, with clean hands, on individual plates ahead of time.
If you want to host a cookout with hot dogs and hamburgers, plate the food in single-serve baskets with parchment paper. Guests can just grab their prepared plates and sit down.
For drinks, you can either pre-batch cocktails for each guest, offer canned wine or beers, or serve wine in individual carafes or bottles. You can also encourage guests to BYO their own drinks, in the spirit of safety.