Learning to live with COVID-19 is an ongoing adjustment. Just as folks begin to feel all is under control, a new surge happens to remind us that the disease is still here in our community and still infecting neighbors, friends and family. For example, in July—after the Fourth of July holiday—the number of positive cases diagnosed at Augusta Health was double what it had been in June. So as we approach the Labor Day holiday weekend, it's helpful to remember these guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Augusta Health.
If you are the host of a gathering or cookout:
Ask guests to stay home if they are sick or have been exposed to COVID-19 within the last 14 days.
- "The news is full of stories about outbreaks following gatherings such as weddings and parties," says Allison Baroco, MD, Infectious Disease specialist at Augusta Health. "No one wants to be the next news story, so it's important to stay home if sick or exposed. You should also consider not attending large gatherings if you or somebody that you live with is at a high risk for complications from COVID."
- Consider writing down a list of the guests who did attend your gathering, just in case it's needed later for contact tracing.
Social distance and wear masks!
- Holding your gathering outdoors, if possible is a good idea. Arrange tables and chairs to allow for six feet of social distancing. People from the same household can sit together, but there should be six feet between family groups.
- Wear masks, especially if indoors or closer than six feet from others.
- "There is a bit of confusion about the possibility of spreading COVID-19 while outdoors," adds Dr. Baroco. "Just being outside does not eliminate the possibility of giving COVID-19 to someone else. If you are standing right next to someone for more than 15 minutes, especially if you are speaking with them, even if you are outside, you need to wear a mask. If you are indoors at a gathering, you should always wear a mask."
Wash hands and clean surfaces.
- Be sure to have plenty of hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol) or a hand washing area at the gathering. Remind guests to clean their hands often, including before eating or serving food.
- Have sanitary wipes available so guests can wipe down table tops and other surfaces.
- Use disposable paper towels for drying hands so your guests don't share a towel.
- In fact, use as many disposable products—plates, tablecloths, utensils—as possible so they can be thrown away. Wash, clean and sanitize anything reusable after the gathering.
Limit the number of people handling and serving food.
- Encourage guests to bring their own drinks.
- Limit the number of people going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared, such as the kitchen or around the grill.
- Have one person serve all the food so that multiple people aren't touching the serving utensils. This is not a good time for buffet or self-serve stations.
- Same for condiments—either provide single serving packets, ask guests to bring their own, or identify one person to serve them.
If you are the guest at a gathering or cookout, follow the same or similar strategies:
- Stay home if you are sick or have been exposed to COVID-19.
- Social distance and wear your mask!
- Wash your hands often and clean frequently touched surfaces before and after you use them.
- Use disposable items when possible or bring your own.
- Avoid buffets and self-serve stations. Volunteer to be the designated server, and follow safety guidelines.
"Safer gatherings are outdoors, involve people that are also practicing physical distancing, and are small," says Dr. Baroco. "The highest risk gatherings are when multiple people travel from multiple states for a large event. We should continue to try to limit our gatherings to lower risk scenarios as much as possible."
She adds, "Labor Day is the traditional end to the summer vacation season, and everyone wants to celebrate. It is important to celebrate, but it's very important this year that our celebrations be safe and protect our health and the health of those we love."