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People having fun drinking latte outside at coffeehouse

COVID fatigue, the availability of vaccines, and the relaxing of COVID guidelines are motivating people to spend more time together. As you begin to socialize, keep in mind that COVID-19, particularly its variants, are still highly transmissible. If you plan to reconnect with others through activities, events, and gatherings, be sure to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), local, and state guidelines.

Below are some strategies to consider doing before, during, and after attending or hosting a gathering to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Before a Gathering

  • Check infection rates. Check the infection rates in your area and areas where guests may travel from before hosting or attending a gathering. Use this information to decide if it is safe to have or to attend a gathering. Remember to also check your local, county, or state regulations for any travel restrictions.
  • Limit the number of guests. Keep in mind that the larger the group size, the greater the risk of spreading the virus. Also, try to limit the number of households. Create and keep a list of all guests who attend.
  • Get tested beforehand. While not a requirement, hosts could ask guests to get tested before a gathering. COVID tests are now available at many local pharmacies and each household can order two sets of four free at-home tests. Allow enough time for test results to come back. Individuals who test positive, or who have been around someone with COVID-19 in the last 10 days, should be advised not to attend. Don’t forget, you should also get tested. If you test negative, you and your guests should avoid being around individuals outside your household as much as possible.
  • Decide on the location and the amount of time for a gathering. Consider hosting the gathering outside to reduce the spread of COVID-19. If the weather does not permit gathering outside, make sure the inside space is well ventilated. Open windows and doors to circulate air. Homeowners can set heating or cooling systems on a continuous circulation cycle to increase ventilation. Also, make sure the space is large enough to allow each family group or household to remain six feet from other groupings. Don’t forget that the longer the time of the gathering, the greater the risk.

During a Gathering

  • Wear a mask.  The CDC recommends wearing well-fitted masks for indoor gatherings and in situations where 6-foot spacing is difficult – even outdoors. Individuals that are up-to-date on their vaccines do not have to wear a mask while outside. In areas of substantial or high transmission, people still might choose to wear a mask when outdoors and in sustained close contact with individuals who are not fully vaccinated or who have weakened immune systems. Those wearing a mask should keep the mask on at all times except when eating or drinking.  The mask should cover both the mouth and nose. Have extra masks available for individuals who forgot their masks. Consider sending guests a copy of mask guidelines in advance.
  • Practice social distancing. Quests who are not fully vaccinated should stay at least 6 feet away from others. Although you may have a strong desire to give family members and friends a hug, handshake, or fist-bump, refrain from doing so. As a host, seat members of the same household together, but make sure that each household is at least six feet apart. Encourage guests to limit their movement between other households or groups.

Extra Precautions

  • Use a server. Limit the number of people moving in and around the area where food is being prepared. Select one person to serve the food. Be sure the server thoroughly washes their hands and keeps their mask over their mouth and nose at all times. Don’t allow guests to handle serving utensils or other shared items (i.e. salad dressing, condiments, beverage containers, etc.). Use disposable plates, cups, and cutlery. When discarding items, be sure to use a touchless trash can.
  • Encourage guests to wash their hands often. Remind guests to wash their hands with soap and water before eating. If possible, place a note beside the soap dispenser requesting guests to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds. Be sure to have paper towels available for guests to dry their hands. Also, have a sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol available in various locations.
  • Place disinfectant wipes in the bathrooms. Provide disinfectant wipes in restrooms. Place disinfecting wipes together with a sign asking guests to wipe the toilet seat before and after use, the sink area after use, and the doorknob when leaving the room. Be sure to also place a hands-free trash bin outside of the bathroom. This will allow for the disposal of wipes.
  • Discourage singing or yelling. Although gatherings are a time for joyous and sometimes loud conversations, activities, and lots of singing, encourage your guests not to sing or shout. If activities are planned, be sure to engage in activities that promote social distancing and possibly being outside.

After a Gathering

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. This includes surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, buttons on the stereo system, tables, hard-surface chairs, toilets, sink handles, countertops, railings, and handles on kitchen appliances and cabinets.
  • Get tested again. While not required, if attendees of a gathering would like to take precautions, they could get tested again after attending the gathering. Hosts may ask each guest to get tested after returning home and isolate as much as possible. Be sure to ask them to check their local regulations or restrictions regarding how long they should isolate after attending a gathering.

What if I test positive for COVID-19?

The CDC recommends that individuals who test positive for COVID-19–with or without symptoms –should stay home, isolate themselves from other people for at least five full days, and wear a well-fitted mask if they must be around individuals while in isolation. When counting the days, the first day of symptoms or the day you tested positive is day zero. Isolation can end after five full days if there is no sign of fever for 24 hours (without the use of medication) and symptoms are improving. If you must be around people, take precautions and wear a well-fitted mask for an additional five full days. The same applies to individuals showing symptoms but are fully vaccinated. Visit the CDC’s guidelines regarding isolating for more information.

Conclusion

When reconnecting with family and friends through gatherings, be sure to plan and take precautions to avoid the spread of COVID-19. By encouraging and following these strategies, you are not only doing your part to protect your loved ones, but you are also protecting others.

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