Is a Backyard Gathering Safe During COVID-19?

Sep. 1, 2020 - Katie McCallum

We're all trying to do our part to slow the spread of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

You're onboard with social distancing and wearing a mask, but continuing to forgo all social gatherings — like that backyard gathering you host or go to every year — can be a drain.

Should you cancel?

According to the CDC, social distancing includes reducing close contact with people who are not a part of your household — even if you're in an outdoor space.

There's no getting around it: Mixing households during a pandemic comes with risks. But, if you do decide to have a backyard gathering, it's important to have a plan. Or, if you're attending one, make sure the host is taking extra precautions.

Here are six ways to make a backyard gathering as safe as possible during COVID-19.

Limit and vet your guest list

Gathering as a group will continue to come with risks, but you can reduce that risk by making sure that both the number of guests and the size of your backyard are conducive to social distancing. (And, remember, social distancing means keeping six feet between yourself and others).

In addition, different households are likely taking varying levels of risks. This means that the fewer the number of different households that come together, the safer the gathering will be. In fact, it's probably best to include only one other household that you know is being just as safe and cautious as yours is.

For instance, if another family just got back from vacation and has been going out to eat regularly, you may want to think twice before mixing households.

Keep guests in your backyard (and out of your home as much as possible)

An important part of setting up your backyard gathering is having everything your guests may need readily available and accessible outdoors. Well, a way to go to the bathroom may be an exception, but we'll get to that later.

This means giving your guests easy access to:

  • Seating in the shade
  • Separate coolers with ice to keep food and drinks cold
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Disinfectant wipes


You can gather in socially distant circles while mingling, but you'll want to have a separate table for each household to ensure social distancing while eating. In addition, make sure your backyard is stocked with all the napkins and plastic dinnerware your guests may need.

If kids will be present, make sure there are plenty of outdoor activities so that they're not tempted to sneak inside to play video games. Remind kids not to share electronic devices or food, and you'll also want to avoid letting kids play contact sports. Kids can safely enjoy pool time if you have one in your backyard — as long as social distancing is still happening.

Ask guests to BYO drinks and sides

While there's always a star of the show at a backyard gathering — some delicious BBQ, for instance — you'll want to avoid sharing other food items whenever possible.

One easy way to do this is to ask your guests to bring their own drinks and sides (they probably would've brought something as a "thank you" anyway). It may also help to have a few coolers full of ice already set up for your guests to store cold drinks and side dishes.

As an alternative, consider buying prepackaged sides and setting separate, unopened containers out at each household's table. And make sure to remind kids that if they want a snack they should grab from the bag of chips at their own family's table.

When it comes time to serving your BBQ or whatever it may be, consider serving straight off the heat — having just one person from each family fill a platter to serve his or her entire table.

Set up social distancing reminders or barriers

There's nothing like food, friends and fun (and a few drinks) to tempt you out of those inconvenient social-distancing measures.

To prevent that, use tables as physical barriers and chairs for conversation. Arranging chairs in a large circle is a great way to sit together as a group without coming into close contact.

If you're standing while having a conversation, remember that six feet is probably further than you think — about two arm's lengths. You can also set up social-distancing reminders on the ground, so that guests can easily identify what a safe distance apart looks like.

In addition, don't be afraid to wear your cloth mask even though your outdoors. While it may not protect you from catching COVID-19, it may protect you from spreading it if you're infected and don't yet know it. But keep in mind, a mask doesn't mean it's okay to break social distancing — the two are meant to work in combination.

Create a direct path to the restroom

You and your guests will be outside as much as possible, but people will inevitably need to venture indoors to use the bathroom.

To limit the risk of your guests touching potentially contaminated surfaces inside your home, as well as potentially contaminating surfaces themselves, make sure your guests know exactly how to get to the restroom.

In addition, you may want to have paper towels in the bathroom so you and your guests aren't sharing a hand towel.

Designate a "closing time"

Back in the day, it was totally safe for a backyard gathering to last as long as you wanted it to. During a pandemic, the longer you gather, the riskier that gathering becomes.

There's no hard-and-fast rule as to how long your gathering should be — any amount of time increases your risk. But definitely don't let it drag on for several hours.

Catch up, laugh and enjoy the socially-distant company — and then don't be afraid to kindly let your guests know that it's time to say your goodbyes.

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