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13 essential tips for safe outdoor gatherings

It’s more important than ever to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

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Even though it’ll be a while until we can enjoy warm spring temperatures, many Americans are itching to get outside and meet with their friends and family for some socially distanced social contact. And, in fact, some cities are great for outdoor gatherings.

However, even with vaccine distribution ramping up and COVID-19 cases falling, new mutations of the disease are arising and the CDC has warned the public that we need to continue being cautious about meeting with others. With that in mind, if you’re planning an outdoor gathering, keep these thirteen tips in mind for staying safe and preventing the spread of COVID-19:

  1. Wear a mask, and be sure to wear it properly (over your nose and mouth). COVID-19 spreads in droplets of moisture in your breath, and the more you talk, sing, or shout, the more droplets you spread. You should wear a mask every time you go out in public, but keep in mind that gatherings where you’ll be chatting with people who are outside of your household are especially risky for this reason. Many health experts are now recommending doubling up on masks.
  2. Stay six feet away from others. According to the Centers for Disease Control, COVID-19 spreads mostly among people who are within six feet of each other for prolonged periods of time. If you’re gathering with friends, make sure you’re at least six feet apart, even if you’re outdoors.
  3. Stay home if you’re sick or immunocompromised. If for any reason you have a weakened immune system, you’re best skipping out on social gatherings. When immunocompromised individuals contract COVID-19, it’s far more likely to be severe than it is for someone with a healthy immune system.
  4. Be careful how big your “bubble” becomes. It’s important to keep the number of people you have regular in-person contact with to a minimum rather than making exceptions and letting your “bubble” or “pod” creep up in size. There’s no magic number, but remember that each individual person in your group represents not just their own risk of spreading COVID-19, but the risk of their partners, spouses, children, roommates, and anyone else in their household and their “bubbles,” as well.
  5. Wash your hands whenever possible, and bring hand sanitizer for when it’s not. Washing your hands thoroughly is one of the easiest ways to stop the spread of COVID-19. Handwashing is preferable to using hand sanitizer, but if you have to use hand sanitizer, make sure that it has 60% alcohol content or more.
  6. Ask what precautions attendees plan on taking ahead of the gathering. Asking about precautions is a great way to vet venues for your gathering, but you should also ask other attendees. It can help you to make a decision about what precautions you need to take, or if you want to attend at all.
  7. Your gatherings should be on the short side. For instance, California has urged residents to gather for two hours or less. Prolonged contact with people outside of your household raises the risk of spreading COVID-19, so it’s best to make the most of a short gathering.
  8. Keep the guest list small. Large gatherings have been some of the biggest culprits for the spread of COVID-19. Limiting the number of people who will attend your gathering will help attendees stay six feet apart from each other and lessen the opportunity for the virus to spread to more households.
  9. Pay attention to your community transmission level. If the transmission level in your community is high, it’s best not to plan a gathering at all until there’s less risk of the disease spreading between you and your friends. Your city or county’s government web site is the best place to look for information about transmission rates.
  10. Only gather with attendees from your local area. Sometimes you have to think big-picture when you’re getting together with friends and family. If some attendees at a gathering are from out-of-town, it’s very likely that their town and yours have different transmission rates. That means that they could be spreading COVID-19 from a high-risk area to a low-risk area.
  11. Make sure everyone brings their own items. That way, no one will risk transmission by passing around bottles of hand sanitizer, lending each other mittens, or bumming a face mask off of a friend (which, of course, you should never do anyway!). 
  12. Choose a very well-ventilated gathering space. Even in the colder months, you can find good outdoor gathering options. Garages with the door completely open, tents that are open on at least two sides, and bonfires are all good choices.
  13. Practice safety with heat sources. If you opt for an electric space heater, be sure not to overload your sockets and watch out for moisture and melting snow around extension cords. If you use a fuel-burning space heater, be sure that you’re completely outdoors -- they can cause carbon monoxide poisoning if they aren’t in a well-enough ventilated space. And if you use a bonfire or portable fire pit, watch to make sure no one is inhaling smoke.

If your area has a spike in COVID-19 cases or you’re worried about gathering at all, remote gatherings are still the absolute safest way to see your loved ones. For more information on COVID-19, visit CDC.gov.

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