Are All Outdoor Parties Safe? Here’s When They Get Dicey

While the outdoors are generally safer, you still need to be careful.

By Erin Hays
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July 29, 2020 — 6:00 a.m. EST

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We’ve had to miss concerts, birthday dinners, and family reunions, but now that the weather outside is beautiful and we’ve all gone stir-crazy, all we want to do is have a BBQ with friends or hang by the pool with family. While outdoor activities seem to be safer, COVID-19 is still a major problem and we don’t want to put ourselves or our loved ones at risk just to get out of the house. Big parties and indoor parties are pretty much a no-go, but what about if we move the festivities outside? Are all outdoor parties safe right now? And does being outside with people mean we’re automatically safe and there’s nothing to worry about?

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When compared to indoor parties, outdoor ones are definitely the better option. COVID-19 is primarily spread through respiratory droplets, which can be released into the air when someone talks, breathes, sings, or coughs. If you are indoors, not as much air is circulating and therefore you are more likely to breathe in someone else’s respiratory droplets, increasing your risk of contracting the virus. Fresh air outside allows for more air circulation, which disperses these droplets and prevents you from breathing in as many. In fact, a recent study looked at 7,000 cases in China and found that there was only a single instance of an outbreak (involving two people) stemming from an outside gathering.

Right now, before a vaccine is available, your risk of catching COVID-19 is never zero. That means any event you decide to host or attend carries the risk of spreading the virus. So if you, or someone you live with, are particularly high-risk and susceptible to complications from the virus, it is best to keep your distance. You should always gather at your own discretion, but if you do decide to do so, here are some guidelines that may help.

Limit the Guest List

First try to limit who is attending the party. Limiting people allows you to keep an appropriate distance from other partygoers. When groups get larger, even outdoors, it can affect our spatial awareness and reduce our ability to keep our distance. The limit you set should be dependent on the party space as well as your local government recommendations — you should be able to keep everyone 6 feet apart (comfortably) in the designated space. If you are the guest attending an outdoor event, don’t be shy about asking how many people are attending so you can determine if you feel comfortable enough to go.

When it comes to deciding who to invite, the smaller the social circle the better. Stick with people you know have been careful with their interactions or who have only been hanging out with the other people in your bubble. Some people have formed a “quarantine group” in which members are allowed to socialize with other individuals in the predetermined group, but avoid all other outside contact.

Limiting the number of people also helps reduce volume and keeps you from having to raise your voice to have a conversation. This is important because loud talking actually expels more respiratory droplets than talking softly or in your regular speaking voice. For this same reason, try to keep the background music low.

Don’t Be Afraid to Set Ground Rules

Set rules for your guests. Make sure invitees know not to bring an uninvited plus one and to steer clear of the party if they are exhibiting any symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who tested positive within the past 14 days.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to let your guests know they are not allowed inside the house (except to a designated bathroom) and provide items like hand sanitizer if that makes you feel more comfortable.

When it comes to wearing masks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing cloth face coverings when less than 6 feet apart from people or indoors. But remember, if you are the host, you can set whatever rules make you feel comfortable. If this means requiring masks at all times except for when eating, that is up to you!

Manage the Menu

You should limit shared food and utensils. While coronavirus is mainly spread person to person through respiratory droplets, it may be possible to get the virus by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. This is especially relevant when talking about food because you are more likely to touch your mouth when eating. The best way to keep partygoers safe is to individually wrap meals or have everyone bring their own food.

If you are attending a party where the host requests you to BYO, pack some of your favorites from home or support a local restaurant by getting takeout.

How to Socially Distance Your Guests

Another good host tip: plan some activities that encourage distancing. Cornhole is a great outdoor summer game that pretty much requires you stay 6 feet away from your opponent. You will, however, be touching the same cornhole bags as your partner so be sure to wash your hands before eating or touching your face. The same goes for other distancing games such as frisbee or ping pong.

If games aren’t really your style, encourage distancing by setting out chairs or cushions in places you want guests to sit. Remind your guests to stay in their spot or switch spots with friends without moving the chairs.

Using a Guest Restroom

If you are at an outdoor event and have to use the restroom, no need to hold it or go home. The chance of getting COVID-19 from a restroom is low. That being said, it is still a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (hopefully you were doing this even before the pandemic) and turn off the faucet or open the door with a paper towel. Also, be courteous to your host and wipe down any surfaces you touch for that extra precaution.

How to Clean Up & Disinfect Post-Party

If you hosted an outdoor event it’s probably smart to give everything a wipe down with an antibacterial wipe once the party is over. There is evidence that COVID-19 can remain viable for hours to days on certain surfaces, however transmission of the virus from surface to person has not currently been documented. Still, it can’t hurt to clean frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, handles, faucets, or tables with a household cleaner post-gathering. A list of products that are approved for the use against coronavirus can be found here.

If you choose to host or attend an outdoor event the smart, responsible thing to do would be to isolate for 14 days afterwards to make sure no one who came is exhibiting symptoms. While this is not a law, it is the smart thing to do to assist with prevention and limiting the spread.

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Article written by Erin Hays