Friendly gatherings are usually the foundation of summer and a part of healthy social interaction. Getting together with friends and family is a tradition as old as time. Science has also shown us that face-to-face interactions with loved ones can bolster our social wellbeing (and even fight feelings of depression).1
Summer holidays include:
What options do we have for social interaction to improve our social wellness while also minimizing our risks? Nothing you can do will 100% eliminate all risks. However, there are steps you can take to mitigate the possibility of spreading or contracting the coronavirus.
Nothing says "Summer" like an outdoor cookout or a grand 4th of July fireworks show. Spreading out on the lawn or in a park and firing up the grill with friends and family is an American tradition. Fortunately, you can safely enjoy some traditional summer activities with some proactive planning.
1.) Assess Your Risk
First, consider your household and your health. Are you or any of your housemates at an increased risk from preexisting conditions? For a comprehensive list of risk factors, you can visit the CDC's page on COVID-19 complications and risk factors.
If members of your household are in the mentioned high-risk groups, it's best to consider celebrating without inviting outside guests.
Extend this same consideration to your guest list if you decide to host a summer fling, such as a 4th of July cookout. Communicate concerns to higher-risk contacts so they understand why they might not have received an invite to visit.
You should also assess your community's risk. How widespread is the coronavirus in your area? The risk for someone in a large, densely packed city with thousands of cases may be different than the risk for someone who lives in a small, rural town with few to no confirmed cases.
An effective way to measure this is to look at the number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 citizens.
But it is understandable to want to invite over loved ones you haven't seen much of lately. If you choose to do this, try to keep your guest list small and avoid congregating indoors. Have the party outside where there's open-air and plenty of space to keep a healthy distance. As harsh as it sounds, now may be the time to be selective with close contacts. While isolation from friends and family can detrimental to our social wellbeing, we need to be conscious of our physical wellbeing. Keep your summer celebrations intimate. If you celebrate with the group you've already been self-isolating with, there is a greatly reduced risk.
Moving the party outside will make for a better experience overall, coronavirus aside. Spending time outdoors (especially in the beautiful July weather) can improve your mood, boost your energy levels, and improve your short-term memory.3 Can your living room couch say the same thing?
3.) Choose Your Location Wisely
We've established that the outdoors are the best place for your summer fun, but where exactly should you go? The more space you have, the safer you and your guests can be during the festivities.
If you have a small patio or balcony, you may want to take your party elsewhere. Many beaches, parks, and camping spots are slowly opening back up. Make sure you can keep your celebration safe by researching locations ahead of time and check the following:
Some locations may require you to book in advance or turn you away at the gate if they are too full. Respect these crowd control measures and have a backup location in mind if your first choice is at capacity.
Set smart guidelines for your celebrations. According to the CDC, person-to-person contact is the primary way coronavirus spreads.4 You need to set the rules that make you the most comfortable and make sure they are communicated clearly to guests. For example, make it clear what you expect. Anyone unwilling to follow these guidelines should instead join the party via Google Meet, Facetime, or Zoom.
Communication is paramount. Don't expect your guests to all automatically practice the same level of caution without you explaining the rules beforehand. People are reacting to this pandemic differently so taking the time to communicate will help make sure everyone is one the same page.
Hand hygiene is essential for stopping the spread of all germs, and especially COVID-19. Unfortunately, studies have found time and time again that many of us do not wash our hands properly.5
Second, many soaps can break down the layer of fat that protects the coronavirus, thus rendering it inert. Hand washing is crucial, but you have to do it right, and you should do it frequently. The CDC has a helpful page on proper handwashing techniques. Hand washing fights coronavirus on two fronts. First, it mechanically removes viruses and other germs from your hands. When you lather up and start washing, you can rub the virus off your skin and rinse it away.
Ensure everyone at your summer get-together has access to liquid soap and water. Hand sanitizer is another helpful tool to have around. Your party should have more hand sanitizer than BBQ sauce. According to the CDC, your hand sanitizer should be at least 60 percent ethanol or 70 percent isopropanol alcohol.
Identify high-touch surfaces. These surfaces could be the handle on your cooler or the tongs in your salad bowl. Keep these areas as clean as possible.
The EPA has compiled a list of household cleaners that are effective against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. You can view it here.
Most cities have prudently canceled or restructured their summer events, like the 4th of July. Sprawling out on a high school football field next to thousands of other families increases the odds of being a superspreader event. If your city is still having a summer festival, consider skipping it, or experiencing it from afar.
For example, you can park your car a few streets away from an Independence Day fireworks show rather than attending up close.
Now is the time to get creative. Be willing to break with tradition a bit for the sake of safety. Consider planning your holiday from the ground up to be as coronavirus-free as possible.
These efforts can be annoying, and it's hard to break with tradition, but remember that this summer's celebrations' focus is on spending time with loved ones. How exactly you interact with your close contacts isn't as important as who you spend it with.
Minimize your trips to the store. It's a smart move to consolidate your grocery trips as much as possible. Take the time to plan for your summer dinners. Avoid having to dash back to Walmart six times because you forgot the ketchup or because guests requested vegetarian hot dogs at the last minute.
Do as much of your ordering online as you can. Many stores will arrange curbside pickup or even deliver your groceries. If you can, do your shopping during non-peak hours when stores are less crowded.
The longer your get-together lasts, the more likely it is that people will start to get careless - especially when enjoying summer libations. The handwashing will become less frequent. You'll forget about taking proactive measures and guests will default to previous social norms.
There is also a certain level of stress that comes with hosting any social gathering. You may find that your summer festivities are more mentally taxing than you expect them to be. For the sake of your mental wellbeing, plan to end the evening early.
Too many cooks can ruin a magnificent meal. While food is not the primary way the coronavirus spreads, it is still a risk to have everyone bring their own dishes potluck-style.
Here are two lower-risk options:
So strike a balance. Celebrate this summer with friends and family, but do so as carefully as possible. If we all do our part to safely celebrate summer holidays, then hopefully by 2021, we'll be hugging, high-fiving, and stealing bites of each other's hamburgers as we did before.In July, we pay special attention to improving social wellness. This sunny month provides many opportunities for healthy social events that boost our mental and physical health alike. A hike through the woods with friends can do wonders to keep you physically fit and emotionally content.
(1) Bergland, C (Oct 2015) Face-to-Face Social Contact Reduces Risk of Depression
(2) Karaca-Mandic P, Georgiou A, Sen S (April 2020) Calling All States To Report Standardized Information On COVID-19 Hospitalizations
(3) Marc G. Berman, John Jonides, Stephen Kaplan (Dec 2008) The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature
(4) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (June 2020) How COVID-19 Spreads
(5) Borchgrevink C, Cha J, Kim S (April 2013) Hand Washing Practices in a College Town Environment