For those who simply cannot “shelter in” one minute longer, I would like to put forward practical guidelines for dinner parties from a medical perspective, while at the same time minimizing risk for COVID-19 exposure to your friends and family. I have been to a handful of gatherings recently and tried to apply these experiences along with CDC guidelines.
As the “stay at home” recommendations begin to loosen, we all want to get together with our friends and family. Gathering in groups poses some risk for exposure to COVID-19. How can we be smart and minimize risks, while at the same time reconnecting with loved ones? I hope that you will find these practical guidelines helpful.
A little summary of Covid-19 knowledge will serve as background. The Novel Coronavirus, is thought to be spread two main ways: first, through the air and second, by contact of secretions from infected people. It can travel through the air from mouths and noses by breathing, talking, coughing, and sneezing on other dinner guests.
Staying at least six feet away from the breathing, talking, coughing, and sneezing of infected people can drastically lower your risk. Thus “social distancing” is born.
With spread via contact, the infected dinner guest transmits his contagious secretions to you either directly or indirectly. He directly transmits the virus to your dinner guests by kissing, handshakes, hugs etc. Indirectly, your guest leaves contagious secretions on surfaces like plates, wine bottles, serving spoons, eating utensils etc. after he wipes or scratches his nose, touches his mouth, or eyes. Healthy guests pick up the virus from these contaminated surfaces and then infect themselves through touching their mouth, nose, or eyes.
Well, surely our guests will not come if they are sick. And surely if my guests bring food, they will prepare it in a clean fashion. So, if is no one is sick, then why do I have to worry about getting COVID-19? The reason is that many people have the virus and are contagious, but have no symptoms. In my field, neonatology, studies estimate that of all three in four women infected with COVID-19 present to labor and delivery to have their baby with no symptoms.
From this data you could estimate that most people spreading COVID don’t realize that they have it. Thus, to be smart we must act as if all guests are potentially contagious even though they appear completely well.
So here are my recommendations:
•Guests don’t attend and hosts cancel the dinner party if sick. This is a no brainer.
•Prepare your house ahead of time: Sanitize your surfaces in bathrooms, tables, chairs, door knobs etc. Use disposable paper towels in bathroom and kitchen for hand drying. Have hand sanitizer in multiple locations around your home. Not only does this keep hands clean, but it reminds everyone to be careful.
•Prepare your guests for your rules. Make sure that all the guests are aware of house rules and that they agree to follow them. Remind them that we are doing this to protect the very friends and loved ones that we so desperately need to see.
•Facemask whenever practical. This is not very practical while eating and drinking, so the distancing becomes an even more important tool to employ.
•Avoid kissing, handshakes and hugs. These could lead to direct virus exposure. Remember any one of us could have asymptomatic COVID-19.
•Consider throw away paper plates, napkins, cups, and plastic utensils. This minimizes contact with potentially contaminated items.
•Keep the group limited to 10-12 people. The smaller the group the less likely that someone will have COVID.
•Hosts serve all food and beverages. The hosts, with presumably frequently washed and clean hands, should serve all food and drinks throughout the evening. This will be slower than a buffet style party, but is necessary to prevent unknowing contagious guests from leaving secretions on serving spoons, wine bottles, etc. and potentially inoculating your other guests. Alternately, if you must have a buffet style event, have everyone sanitize/wash their hands prior to going thru the buffet line.
•Social Distancing: Seat all households 6 feet apart. There is no need to divide up households that live, sleep, and ride in cars together. This means couples or family members that live together (households) can sit close together, but a minimum of the CDC recommended 6 feet apart from other households. Households sitting together make it easier to obtain the recommended minimum of 6 feet of separation.
•Outdoors if possible or indoors in a large room: If the weather and your home allow, have the dinner outside. It’s been shown that the risk to transmit the virus through the air outside is extremely low. If you must have the dinner inside and you can’t achieve 6 feet social distancing in your dining room, consider other larger rooms in your house. Also, try and have the predinner happy hour outdoors.
Remember, a little inconvenience is way worth a chance to safely visit with your friends and family after this long period of separation. Following these practical science-based guidelines for dinner parties can lower the risk if catching COVID-19. For the next foreseeable months and until we have vaccines or other effective treatments, caution, especially with our family and friends, reigns supreme. Here’s wishing everyone happy, Covid-free dinner parties!
Mac Temple, a Northsider, is neonatal-perinatal physician