Here's how to socialize while social distancing.

By Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner
June 18, 2020
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After studying your walls for nearly three months, the desire to expand your boundaries, start socializing, and enjoy summer is understandable. But until a vaccine is developed and administered, the COVID-19 pandemic still rages on, and precautions are necessary to keep the curve as low as possible. We spoke with Cara Natterson, MD, a pediatrician and award-winning author, and Vandana A. Patel, MD, FCCP, clinical advisor for online pharmacy Cabinet, to help update your expectations for what is possible in summer 2020 and still make the most of it.

“It’s safe to have gatherings this summer, but they won’t look like gatherings you have had in summers past,” says Dr. Natterson, who also recently created the OOMASK to help protect kids and stop the spread of disease. Forget your “everyone’s invited” mentality from summers past: exclusivity is the key.

“The rules will vary based upon where you live, but it’s almost always safe to limit to 10 or fewer [people],” Dr. Natterson says. Recommendations will vary by city and state, but 10 is generally the limit, if you can accommodate different groups at a distance. Dr. Natterson says the six-foot rule still applies, and outside is much safer than inside. Have an enormous backyard? Pause before you invite more guests. “People love to gather in groups, but the more folks that are present, the harder it is to maintain distance,” she says.  

After all, getting together with friends isn’t without risk. “There is always risk associated with having gatherings of friends, family, or others from outside your household,” says Dr. Patel, citing the CDC recommendation of avoiding gatherings of any size outside your household. “[Many] epidemiologists seem to be holding off on doing any small dinners with friends and outdoor picnics until three to 12 months from now, she adds. In a June 2020 New York TImes survey of 511 epidemiologists, only 31 percent said they’d attend outdoor picnics with friends this summer. 

A big part of being a welcoming host is not exposing yourself or guests to harm or illness. “Invite family and friends who you know well and who have been healthy without any sickness for the past 14 days,” says Dr. Patel. “Trust is important, so consider that when making your guest list. Also be cautious with health care workers or individuals who have been exposed to COVID-19—even if tested negative.” Elderly or pregnant people and those with high-risk conditions like chronic lung disease, diabetes, or liver and kidney problems should also refrain from hosting in any capacity. 

“Masks are the newest cool summer accessory,” says Dr. Natterson. Sure, they may not match your favorite summer dress and they may feel hot in the depth of humidity, but they’re important. Encourage guests to bring masks, knowing it’s fine to remove them to eat or drink at a distance. “Just be extra thoughtful about how much space there is between you and the next person—without a mask, you want to make more of an effort to keep your distance,” Dr. Natterson says. 

Don’t forget to make alcohol-based hand sanitizer available to all guests throughout your event and to help make your entertaining space sanitary for all guests. “Wipe down surfaces of tables and chairs with disinfectant cleaners, space out tables and chairs six feet, and if space permits, 10 feet apart,” says Dr. Patel. “Wipe down door handles to bathrooms and keep disinfectant wipes available for guests to clean up after touching surfaces.”

Potluck and buffet season is on pause, but that means as a host, you can get creative with individually portioned dishes. Pre-slice sandwiches and wrap them in plastic or beeswax, pre-portion cold salads and hot dishes, and forget family style for anyone outside of the family. Remember to sanitize hands in all steps of food prep and wear a mask to avoid contaminating what you’ll be serving.

Drinks should also be pre-portioned: think cans, bottles, or pre-filled cups. If you do want to serve guests off the grill or otherwise, don’t let anyone help out and keep a mask and gloves on until you’ve served everyone. “A common serving spoon is a potential site of shared infection,” says Dr. Natterson.

Requesting guests bring their own dishware may feel silly, but it helps spread contamination from their mouths and hands to the items you’ll later be cleaning up. If BYO isn’t your style, consider using disposables for all food items. Sophistiplate makes host-worthy disposable dinnerware if you want to set socially distant tablescapes or consider shopping for low-priced, vintage glasses that guests can take home as a souvenir. 

Ball games and card games both mean touching and potentially transferring infectious particles, so skip out on contact activities and plan ahead to keep kids and adults entertained with touch-free activities. Curate a playlist for a distanced dance party, cue up a round of charades, play BINGO with scratch-off cards, or think of more socially distant activities to help forget everything you’re missing out on and maybe create a new summer tradition.