Remember the days when parties were casual? When our kids got excited about celebrating with their friends? When the only thing we had to worry about was what to wear and what to bring?
The coronavirus pandemic changed every individual aspect of our lives, and with the vaccination campaign
well underway, many families are eager to return to celebrations with their loved ones. Unfortunately, it’s still not as simple as sending invitations and ordering decorations.
Here’s what parents need to know to mitigate risks and host parties, including the risks you need to consider, ways to protect everyone’s safety, how to check local guidelines, and how to maintain safe behavior during the party.
Partying During the Pandemic
Hosting a party during the pandemic isn’t impossible, but it is still risky. COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths remain extremely high
across the U.S., and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) still recommend that you do not visit people who do not live with you.
That said, health officials recognize that we’re frustrated in isolation. They also recognize that there are responsible ways to interact with others and mitigate risk.
Risks to Consider
First, you need to know the risks that contribute to the decision of whether or not to host a party in the first place. Several risk factors can contribute to the likelihood of party guests contracting or spreading COVID-19 at an event, and in combination, they create higher or lower risks of gathering.
- Number of COVID-19 cases in your community (more cases means more risk)
- The setting of the event (indoor, poorly ventilated areas are higher risk)
- The length of the event (longer events are riskier than short ones)
- Number and crowding of people at the event (more people means more risk)
- The behavior of individuals during the event (risky behaviors like poor mask etiquette, lack of social distancing, singing, or shouting all increase risk)
- Exposure during travel (any stops made along the way to the event increase risk)
A good resource to assess your risk is the CDC’s Events and Gatherings Readiness Planning Tool
- Modifications to Make to Your Plans Pre-Pandemic
Again, it is possible to host parties during the pandemic, but you have to do so responsibly. That includes modifying your party plans to account for basic COVID-19 safety measures.
First, you have to understand and accept that this won’t look like a party you hosted before the pandemic. We’re still in a pandemic and still at risk from COVID-19.
Second, you’ll have to modify your party based on basic safety measures designed to prevent the spread of the virus, which may mean changing your plans. For example, you may need to invite fewer people. You may need to get creative to host a party outdoors.
Safety Precautions to Take
Your basic safety precautions include:
- Social distancing
- Hygiene and respiratory etiquette
For example, the CDC recommends maintaining a distance of about 6 feet
(roughly two arms’ lengths) away from people not in your household, both in indoor and outdoor spaces, regardless of whether or not you’re wearing a mask. That way, saliva droplets thrown into the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks cannot be inhaled by people nearby.
A cloth face mask
protects you and the people around you. They should be worn by everyone over the age of 2 who does not have trouble breathing in all public settings around people not in your household. Always wear your mask to cover both your nose and mouth, and do not take it on and off in public.
All attendees should wash their hands
frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (if you’re sick of singing “Happy Birthday”, you can also try the chorus of “Let It Go”, “Mr. Brightside”, or “Jolene”). If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content.
This goes hand-in-hand (figuratively speaking) with respiratory etiquette. For example, while you might sing to yourself while washing your hands, don’t sing around other people. Don’t shout either, especially indoors. If you play music, keep the volume low so people don’t need to raise their voices.
Protecting Everyone’s Safety and Wellbeing
It takes two to make a thing go right--or, in this case, it takes everyone’s cooperation to make a party safe.
As an Attendee/Guest
You should not attend a party if you or anyone in your household:
- Has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and hasn’t met the criteria to safely be around others
- Has symptoms of COVID-19
- Is waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test
- May have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 within the past 14 days
- Is at an increased risk of severe illness with COVID-19
If you or someone in your household faces a risk of severe illness with COVID-19 (such as immune-compromised individuals or those with respiratory problems) you should not attend an in-person event with individuals outside of your household.
As an Organizer/Host
As a host, the same checklist applies--if the list describes you or anyone in your household, it’s not a good idea to host a party.
However, as a host, you also have the added responsibility of communicating with guests before the party. Remember, a key element of safety is making sure all guests adhere to safety precautions. Before the party, talk to all of your guests about the safety measures you plan to take and get their explicit agreement to comply with those rules.
If they don’t, they put every other guest at risk. Make it clear that you won’t have guests attend if they don’t intend to comply with your safety rules.
Checking Local Guidelines/Regulations Before Planning Your Event
With all of that in mind, the choice to host a party isn’t entirely up to you.
Because each state and each county has different infection rates, local guidelines can vary widely depending on where you live. Worse, local guidelines may not reflect national safety guidance.
The safest bet is to check the guidelines for your city, county, and state and keep your guests apprised right up to the day of the event. If guidelines disagree, comply with the strictest version to ensure your guests’ safety.
Establishing and Maintaining Healthy Environments
Planning a party isn’t what it used to be, and in the era of COVID-19, your party planning precautions don’t end with regulations or a conversation about wearing masks.
Before the Party
Your work begins before the party to ensure that your environment is safe when guests arrive and that it remains safe to use as the party carries on.
- Cleaning and Disinfection
The first step? Break out your rubber gloves and get cleaning
While the coronavirus is not transmitted skin-to-skin, it can be transmitted if someone touches a surface with the coronavirus on it and then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes. At a minimum, you should clean all surfaces with List N disinfectants
before the party, but you should plan to clean more frequently if you see poor hand hygiene or you know the space is used by people at risk of severe illness.
You should clean:
- High-touch areas (doorknobs, countertops, handles, etc.)
- Areas used by young children
- High-traffic areas
- Areas used by individuals at risk of severe illness from COVID-19
Generally, though, your safest bet is to clean everything.
If you plan to host your party indoors, the enclosed space means you have to bolster ventilation--better ventilation
means fewer virus particles lingering in the air for extended periods of time.
The simplest way to do this at home is by opening doors and windows and using fans to assist in spreading fresh air. If opening doors or windows is not safe (for example, due to the risk of asthma symptoms or the presence of young children and pets), then turn to other options to improve air circulation
, like air filtration and exhaust fans in your bathroom and stove.
- Use of Physical Barriers and Guides
Social distancing is a core component of safety. However, even if you limit the number of guests at your party, it can be hard to remember that distance. So, give your guests a helpful hint.
Offer physical guides to remind people to stay six feet apart, like tape on floors or sidewalks. You should also establish pedestrian flow patterns when you set up the party to make it easier to stay 6 feet apart. Plan on multiple single-direction entrances and exits to avoid crowding, and if you can, make sure the party has separate entrance and exit points.
If your walkways are wide enough for bi-directional movement, use clear markings and signs to guide the flow of traffic.
There will be some areas where it is difficult to keep people 6 feet apart. That’s when you need physical barriers, like partitions and sneeze guards.
During the Party
When the party arrives, your work is not done. Even if you spoke with your guests in advance about safety measures, you still need to focus on maintaining safety during the party.
- Encouraging Proper Hygiene
You should regularly remind guests to practice proper hygiene (and give them the tools to do so).
For example, you should show guests where they can wash their hands. If you don’t have a spot for that (or easy access to one) make sure guests have easy access to hand sanitizer. You can even hand out mini hand sanitizer bottles when guests arrive as a useful party favor.
Of course, it’s not just about hand hygiene. It’s also about cough and respiratory etiquette
. For example, guests should not cough into their hand or elbow, but rather into disposable tissues. You can hand those out with hand sanitizer on arrival. Also, remind guests not to raise their voices, shout, or sing--all of these activities throw saliva droplets in the air.
- Promoting Safety Around Food and Drinks
There is no evidence to suggest that handling or eating food contributes to COVID-19 spread. The issue is shared utensils or groups congregating around food areas.
This is the time to use physical guides. If you distribute food, avoid shared utensils and avoid self-serve food options that encourage crowding. The safest option is pre-boxed or pre-bagged food for each attendee so that they don’t have to handle any shared utensils. Also, discourage any sharing of food or drink.
After the Party
The party is over, the house is clean, guests have gone home, and you’re all done, right? Not exactly.
Unfortunately, sometimes even the most thorough precautions can still result in exposure. It just takes one infected person to spread the virus to others, and because the virus takes 14 days to incubate before someone shows symptoms, someone may not even know they’re sick.
Which means that if you host or attend a party, your responsibilities don’t end when the party comes to a close.
- Isolating if Exposed to the Virus
is used to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to healthy people. Anyone who has COVID-19, has symptoms of COVID-19, has reason to believe they may have been exposed, or is waiting on the results of a COVID test should self-isolate at home, including staying separate from family members.
To be clear, isolation isn’t the same thing as quarantine. Isolation keeps someone who has been infected away from others, even in their own home. Quarantine keeps someone who may have been exposed away from others.
If you have reason to believe you may have contracted the virus, you should get a COVID-19 test and quarantine until you receive the results. If you receive a positive test, you should self-isolate until you no longer present symptoms and
have a negative COVID test.
- Informing the Host and Close Contacts if You Test Positive
If you have tested positive, or you are awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test, you need to inform others so that they can quarantine and get tested (this is called contact tracing
Start by making a list of your close contacts
, including anyone who attended the party with you. Reach out to people individually and ask them to talk privately for a few minutes. Let them know you received a positive COVID test or were diagnosed with COVID on xx date. Remind them of the date you last saw them so that they and their household can get tested and quarantine as necessary.
Parties may not look the way they used to, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to celebrate with your loved ones. As long as everyone does so responsibly, you can carve out time to celebrate those special moments. And during the pandemic, it’s even more important than ever to recognize those important moments with the people we love.
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