Here are 7 ways to stay safe (and still have fun).
grilling gathering
Credit: Getty / Guido Mieth

With summer in full swing and the country more than three months into the novel coronavirus pandemic, we get it if you're feeling a little stir-crazy about staying inside. Still, with new case diagnoses climbing close to 50,000 per day as some states reopen and people start gathering in public again, health officials are suggesting that Americans celebrate July Fourth at home. (They point to the increase in cases on and since Memorial Day weekend, when some parts of the country eased restrictions.)

Staying home alone or with your family is always going to be the safest option virus-wise, but it may not be the healthiest for your mental well-being. Humans are social creatures, after all, and most of us won't be able to stay completely holed up until a vaccine is approved (likely at least six months from now).

"Any gathering right now comes with its own level of risk," says Sandra Kesh, M.D., the deputy medical director and infectious disease specialist at Westmed Medical Group in Westchester, New York. But if you're determined to have a gathering, say, around a meal, here's how to do so in the safest fashion.

How to Have a Safer Gathering During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Invite Wisely

Remind invited guests to stay home if they've been exposed to the virus in the last 14 days or are showing any symptoms.

"Anyone who has had close contact with a person who has COVID-19 should also stay home and monitor their health," says Kristen Nordlund, a CDC spokesperson in Atlanta, Georgia. (P.S. The CDC has a guide on all things social during the pandemic.) "Guests who live with those at higher risk should also consider the potential risk to their loved ones."

Stick to Your "Quaran-team"

Invite only those who you know are following safe protocols and have not put themselves in risky situations (such as a crowded mall, bar or a gym).

"Find a small group of people you know and trust and form an 'isolation pod.' That should be your social unit until we get the case count under control, especially because of cases going through the roof in some states. Even in a state with low cases, it's easy for it to be reintroduced in a community that's starting to feel more comfortable," Kesh says.

If you're unsure if someone has been taking physical distancing or face mask recommendations seriously, "I wouldn't spend time around those people right now. It's not worth the risk," Kesh adds.

Host Your Gathering Outdoors

If you must head inside, gather in a well-ventilated area such as near an open window, Nordlund says.

Greet Wisely

"When guests arrive, minimize gestures that promote close contact. Instead of shaking hands, elbow bumping or hugging, wave and verbally greet each other," Nordlund says.

We know, it can be awkward, but it's for the best in terms of overall safety.

"Just because someone looks and feels fine, doesn't mean they're not infectious. A little bit of paranoia is not a bad thing," Kesh says.

It's a good idea to set ground rules before the event—with your family and your host—to ensure you're on the same page. Open and honest communication is key, Kesh says.

Maintain Your Distance

Arrange tables and chairs to allow for physical distancing. People from the same household can be in groups together and don't need to be spaced far, just aim to stay 6 or more feet away from other families, Nordlund explains. When indoors especially, 10 feet of distance is better than 6, Kesh adds, since there are a lot of indications that COVID-19 spreads by respiratory droplets that can travel surprisingly far under certain conditions.

If kids are invited, dream up creative ways to keep them entertained yet apart, such as a chalk art "competition" on different parts of the driveway.

Ask Everyone to Keep Masks Handy

Consider providing disposable face masks for guests or ask all guests to bring their own. Definitely wear cloth face coverings when less than 6 feet apart from others or any time you're indoors, Nordlund says. If you're outside and aren't eating, your best bet is to wear a mask as well.

"Outside, you have a bit more leeway than inside, but it's not worth the risk of taking your mask off," Kesh says. "People may take their masks off and think they will stay 6 feet away from each other, but if you get within 6 feet, it becomes awkward to point it out. Also, all you need to see is two people not wearing a mask and suddenly the comfort level goes up and everyone takes their masks off."

When in Doubt, BYO

While no coronavirus cases have been linked to transmission via food, you do increase your risk level when everyone gathers around the same bowl, plate or wine bottle—or when you all touch the same serving utensils. Instead of a shareable cookout menu or potluck, have each separate family unit bring their own food, drink and service ware.

"There have been cases of people holding a dinner party where the host got sick and didn't know until a few days later. Everyone at the party got sick too. If you're going to hold a party, be careful about the number of people you invite, who you invite and masks must absolutely be the rule," Kesh says.

And—you can probably guess our final suggestion—be sure to wash your hands early and often.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While EatingWell is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO and their local public health department as resources.