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Is it actually safe to host a BBQ this summer?

Here's what you need to know about cooking out during the COVID-19 crisis.

Chowhound staff
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Chowhound staff
6 min read
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When you ask experts whether it's safe to BBQ during the coronavirus pandemic this summer, the answers you'll get tend to vary -- and they can even change between one day and the next.

Several states that relaxed stay-at-home orders and reopened businesses between mid-May and early June are now seeing surges in COVID-19 cases, and restrictions are once again being imposed in many places, including California.

The fact is, there will continue to be a risk of spreading or contracting the coronavirus until we have a widely administered and effective vaccine. In the meantime, it will be crucial to follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's social distancing guidelines and to keep abreast of your state and county guidelines as well.

When it comes to deciding whether or not to host (or attend) a gathering of any size this summer, "First and foremost, it is best to know what your local and state public health departments are saying about the reopening of your area," says registered dietitian Anne-Marie Gloster.

"If you happen to live in a current hot spot, then having a BBQ might be ill-advised," Gloster adds. "If you are in an area with low rates of infections and the public health department is saying that 'groups of a certain number may gather,' then you can consider a BBQ."

If gatherings will be allowed in your state, you'll likely be able to host or attend a BBQ this summer -- but experts say there are some precautions you should take should you choose to do so. This is especially true for anyone who has a compromised immune system, or who lives with or cares for someone who does.

Keep reading for seven smart safety tips to keep in mind should you decide to host an outdoor party this season.

Read moreBecome a grill master this summer with these 5 grill tricks

1. Keep a safe distance

We're sure you've heard this about 100 times since the pandemic broke out, but if you host or attend a BBQ this summer, you should keep a safe distance of six feet from other partygoers.

If you're hosting, be sure to spread out the seats where people will be sitting and eating. That way, you won't have to be constantly reminding people to keep their distance. Instead, you can simply point out that you've set up the party that way and tell everyone to please respect the rules.

2. Keep your party outdoors

In order to keep a safe distance, it's recommended that you keep your BBQ party outdoors -- rather than allowing guests to enter the interior of your home, according to the California Department of Public Health. 

The current research suggests that coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets that all of us expel when we talk, yell, sing, cough and sneeze. Outside in the open air, these droplets can more easily dissipate before they come in contact with another person, which is why gathering with others while outdoors is considered safer than hosting people indoors.

If you don't have enough backyard space, you can always arrange for you and your guests to meet up at a local park. "See if there are any other outdoor venues in your local area, such as drive-in theaters," Gloster says. "I loved these as a kid and it's a nice way to be with people, and not, at the same time."

Michael H/DigitalVision/Getty Images

3. You make the rules

If you're hosting the party, you set the rules, says Richard S. Garfein, a professor and infectious disease epidemiologist at the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, UC San Diego.

That means you get to say what the safety rules will be at your BBQ gathering. "While it might make the host feel unwelcoming, it really helps set the tone for everyone if the host models proper safety practices," Garfein says.

"If you greet your guests wearing a mask and avoid shaking hands or hugging, it lets everyone know that you are taking precautions seriously to protect your friends and loved ones."

Also, if your guests offer to help clean up, you can kindly decline. Why? Because cleaning up "usually involves carrying serving items into the house," Garfein says.

"If guests are insistent, let them move items closer to the house to make it easier for the host to bring them inside," Garfein adds. This way, you won't have people inside your home.

And, although it's not the most environmentally friendly party trick, you should use disposable plates, cutlery and cups that can all be tossed in the trash when you're done. Keep a large trash can out so people can clean up after themselves. If you want to reduce your environmental impact, opt for compostable tableware.

4. Consider how many people you invite

While it might sound obvious, you should consider how many guests you choose to invite. This will of course come down to how many people can be accommodated in your outdoor space while also physically distancing.

"People should have room to spread out," Garfein says. "If possible, encourage guests to sit in the same place rather than moving to a new seat after getting up to use the bathroom, grab a drink or otherwise."

5. Wash your hands often and wear a protective mask

Javier Zayas Photography/Moment/Getty Images

Another tip that may seem obvious -- but that's super important -- is for you and your guests to wash your hands often.

According to the CDC, washing your hands is one of the best ways to prevent catching and spreading the coronavirus. And you should always aim to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap.

"If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry," according to the CDC.

Additionally, the CDC recommends wearing a cloth mask when hanging out in public settings. This is both to protect yourself and to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

"It is not unreasonable to ask that all guests wear masks when they are not eating or drinking," Gloster says. "Providing themed masks, or masks with everyone's names on them, can take the place of name tags and provide conversation starters."

But if you want guests to bring their own masks to wear, make sure to let them know ahead of time.

Read more: Where to buy face masks online

6. Plan your BBQ activities carefully

When hosting a BBQ, "think about what people will be doing when not eating," Garfein says. That means you should think twice about any games that involve touching common objects, such as cornhole, playing cards or Frisbees.

"If any activities involve touching shared objects or surfaces, put out some hand sanitizer and remind everyone to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth until they've disinfected their hands," Garfein says.

Read more: The best places to buy hand sanitizer online

For an activity that doesn't involve touching common objects, consider "creating your own outdoor viewing party at home with a projector and point it at a blank wall on the outside of your house or garage," Gloster says. "Or, you could hang up a white sheet to make a screen."

Additionally, while it may be a bit of a bummer, Garfein says it's also a good idea to avoid using pools or hot tubs during this time if you're worried about spreading the virus.

If you do decide to swim, "make sure the chlorine level is correct on the day of the BBQ," Garfein says. "Also, you shouldn't share towels, goggles, masks [or] snorkels."

7. Get everyone's contact information

It's also important to have a list on hand of all of your attendees' contact information. 

Why? "If anyone at the party learns that they have COVID-19 after the gathering, they will be asked by the health department for the names and contact information of everyone they were in close contact with during the past two weeks," Garfein says.

This is so that health workers can notify the contacts and advise them to self-quarantine to avoid spreading the virus to others if they are also infected. "The fewer close contacts, the easier this process is and the fewer potential new cases," Garfein adds.

To be extra safe, you can always reach out to your attendees prior to your BBQ and let them know that if they are feeling ill, to please stay home on the day of the gathering.

Watch this: Contact tracing explained: How apps can slow the coronavirus

The bottom line

Should you decide to host a BBQ this summer, it's important to know that all of these precautions will likely make the vibe of your gathering feel different than it normally would.

"However, until the pandemic ends, having the peace of mind that these special visits with friends and family won't result in clusters of new COVID-19 cases should make it all worthwhile," Garfein says.

This article was written by Anna Hecht for Chowhound.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.