The summer season is officially underway and whether you’re spending the Fourth of July holiday weekend at home – again! – or widening your world in some way, chances are you’ll be trying to socialize sometime soon.

COVID-19 social distancing guidelines have kept us largely at home. As infection rates decline, many are heading out and want to mingle. In fact, cellphone data and media reports reveal people are gathering in large groups and without masks, defying recommendations.

“We’ll see the fallout from this weekend in the next week or two,” said Keith Grant, APRN, head of infectious disease for Hartford HealthCare, referring to people who may have been infected by socializing over the holiday weekend.

It’s prudent to stick with social distancing, but if you want to plan a cookout with a few other like-minded people – those as cautious as you when it comes to avoiding virus transmission – here are some suggestions:

  1. Keep it small. Experts say the number of people invited from one household isn’t as important as the number of households invited because each household is considered a “quarantine unit.” The more units you invite, the higher the chance of infection.
  2. Stay outdoors. Being inside hikes the risk of infection in all cases.
  3. Keep your distance. Consider giving each household separate dining space to keep people and their food apart. Position tables or other objects between guests to mark out safe distances.
  4. BYOF. The safest option is to have guests bring their own drinks and food, except for items being grilled. Sharing food, especially finger foods like dips, invites shared germs as every hand going near a serving bowl can transfer the virus. Brief close-range contact is OK, but sustained contact, including with loud people who are more likely to spray viral droplets into the air, is risky.
  5. Grill service. The heat from the grill will kill the virus, but to be extra cautious, serve meat right off the grill so there’s no shared serving platter.
  6. Use disposable. It’s not the greenest option, but it’s safer to use disposable cups, plates and cutlery.
  7. Keep the garbage local. Put a garbage bin nearby and ask guests to throw away used items when they’re done so you don’t need to touch any.
  8. Help for hands. Put together a basic hand-washing station with sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer or soap and water. Outside, a faucet or hose is your water source with spray bottles, a bucket, soap and paper towels.
  9. Stay masked. When not eating, everyone should wear masks. Have a few extra on hand if someone shows up without one.
  10. Be bathroom-friendly. Make the path to the bathroom clear and ask guests to use paper towels to turn off faucets, flush the toilet and reopen the bathroom door.

“It’s as important as ever to wash your hands, wear a mask and don’t touch your face,” Grant said. “Those are still the basic ways to avoid COVID-19 infection.

“We’ve transitioned very well in the last two months, and that has a lot to do with the community. This is the introduction to a new normal and we’ll be doing very well to embrace it.”

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