Life goes on through a pandemic so while we all continue to social distance, there are still birthday parties, weddings, funerals and other milestones that should be marked with some sort of celebration. In this blog I will make some recommendations and bring up some points to consider so that you can host something that will be looked upon fondly while still keeping everyone safe.
I should add that you will need to look at the people you are inviting and the number of cases in your area before you decide how many of these guidelines you will want to follow. If community spread is really low and you trust all the people you are inviting then you may decide to do very little of my recommendations. However in many cases it makes sense to exercise a bit of caution and follow more of these ideas. As everyone lives in different places make sure you are following the rules in your area. There may be mask or guest limitations that will need to be followed. Also, I am not a scientist, just a paranoid mother doing her best to navigate these difficult times so please do your own research and make sure you are comfortable with the choices you are making.
Overall Safety Considerations
I know, wearing a mask susks! So does not hugging friends and washing your hands for what feels like the hundredth time each day. The thing is, science has repeatedly shown us that these things keep everyone safe. Before you get too far in your party planning it is really important to start making an overall safety plan. Every detail going forward will need to be examined through a pandemic lense to make sure something as simple as a child blowing out their birthday candles is planned for.
I get this isn't fun but the way I look at it, is that I want to do everything I can to prevent people from spreading COVID at MY event. I even take it a step even farther and just assume that everyone outside my bubble who will attend has COVID and plan according. That way if I get a phone call after the party and hear that someone who attended tested positive, I know I did everything I could to prevent the spread during my event and those phone calls will be less difficult as everyone knows I did my due diligence.
Here are a few things to consider when looking at overall safety:
- Why: you are choosing to host this event for a specific reason. Focus on that why when making your decisions going forward. It will help guide you on who really should be attending as well as some of the safety considerations that should happen. For example, if grandma is celebrating her 100th birthday you probably want to keep people away. Limit the guest list to those who are part of her bubble and then considering doing something online or having porch visits where everyone is assigned a time to come and it is clearly marked where they should stand.
- Comfort Levels: This is a big one, everyone feels differently about the pandemic. Some people see it as a really big deal and have locked themselves down really tight where others think that it is a big joke. Most people are going to fall somewhere in the middle. Since you are the host(s), it will be really important to host something that you are comfortable with. At the sametime though, you are going to need to consider the comfort levels of the people you are inviting. For example, you might be really healthy and while you take precautions you are not overly worried and regularly have people inside your house. That said, your neighbours may be in a bubble with someone who is higher risk so they stick to outside visits only. Therefore if you wanted to invite your neighbours over to catch up it is probably advisable to suggest after dinner drinks outside instead of inviting them over for a sit down dinner. They can bring their own beverage and chairs if that makes them more comfortable and everyone will enjoy the visit.
- Masks: If you hate masks, then it will be really important to have a space large enough for people to distance or even better be outside with space to distance. Have plans to inform people to bring masks and have some available if this is the route that you go. Of course make sure you check the rules related to masks in your area and consider the comfort levels of your guests (will everyone decline if masks are/are not worn).
- Handwashing: Make sure you have running water and soap or plan to provide hand sanitizer for all guests.
- Budget: Safety supplies are not super expensive but they do add an overall cost to your event. Make sure you account for it early so that you don't get caught and end up spending more than you thought. Keep in mind that everything from the food to the size of the venue may cost more than in past years. On the other side though, event attendance (either through you inviting less people or people declining) may offset some of these costs as everyone has different comfort levels and large events of the past are not happening right now.
- COVID Fatigue: Keep in mind that the longer an event goes on, the more comfortable your guests will get. As such, they may start to creep closer together or stop following your seating guidelines. Knowing that this might happen, you may wish to host shorter get togethers so that the event is wrapped up before people start to feel too comfortable.
Where you choose to host your event is important regardless of whether or not you are in a pandemic. The venue you choose needs to be something within your budget, serve the purpose of the event and allow your guests to have as much space between each other as possible. Here are some other considerations:
- Outside: If at all possible host your event outside, it is much safer. As the weather gets cooler I realize this is not always an option but at least take a few moments to think it over. Could you do an event at the local outdoor skating rink, park or go sledding? If being completely outside is impossible could you have your event in the garage with the door open or in an area with lots of windows that can be opened.
- Air Flow: Regardless of where you choose to hold your event you are going to want to make sure there is really good airflow. Again this is science, you want the virus to dilute in the air and then leave the room. Open windows and doors if possible. If this is not possible use fans to push air out of the room so that air is constantly being refreshed.
- Number of Guests: Really look at the guest list and make sure that all the people you want to invite really should come. Remember your why! You may love that your best friend always comes to your kids birthday party but unless them coming means something to your child or that you really need the help running the party that they provide, you may want to skip the invite for this year. Remember that this can really work in your favor! If you feel obligated to invite people or feel that they are too high of a risk, use the pandemic as an excuse. People can't fault you for keeping everyone safe.
- Bathroom: Keep in mind that people will need to use a bathroom. This is especially important if you are hosting outside. Using the bathroom is relatively low risk but it can be even lower risk if you leave the fan on, close the toilet lid before flushing, provide disinfecting wipes and have each person wipe down surfaces they touched, use paper towels to dry hands and have people leave the door open when they are finished (with the fan still running). Having rules posted will help everyone to stay safe. Also make sure the path to the bathroom is well marked so people don't wander around and that the path is clear so that they don't have to touch anything on the way there.
- Give everyone a spot: Think about how you are going to be social distancing (or not) at your event. If you are not wanting masks, you will need to find some way to keep everyone six feet apart (keep in mind that in your area masks may be mandatory, do your research). This can be done by using tape to mark spots on the floor, setting up chairs in specific spots and asking them not to be moved or in more creative ways. For example, for my daughters birthday we got hula hoops for each child. We set them up in our backyard and when kids arrived they picked the hula hoop they wanted and we turned it into a game where the floor was lava and they couldn't leave their island.
It used to be that you couldn't have a party without food... now I suggest you really think about whether you want to serve anything. It is not so much the eating or drinking that is the problem, it is more that you don't want to be doing this in close proximity. Here are some considerations related to food:
- Masks: You can't wear a mask while you are eating. If you are wanting masks to be worn at your venue, you may want to plan your event so that it is not over a meal and skip the food altogether. If you want food but expect that people will wear masks when not eating, you will want to make sure there is hand sanitizer available for when people need to remove their masks and you might want to have assigned seating or at minimum table space for everyone. People will need somewhere to put masks while they are eating and you don't want them leaving virus on the table where someone else might later put food.
- Provide Food To Take Home: If serving food in your venue is risky but you hate the idea of not providing anything, you could always give guests a loot bag that includes some of the snacks that would have normally been served.
- Bring Your Own: It may make sense in certain circumstances to have everyone bring their own food and just eat together. This works great for visits with friends or family gatherings.
- Food Preparation: Take a look at the guests you have invited and decide if you will prepare the food. Not everyone will want to eat something prepared by a home cook. Consider ordering food in so that guests know it was made in a commercial kitchen.
- Serving Food: Regardless of who prepared the food, the food should not be served buffet style. You don't want the food to be sneezed on or have people sharing serving spoons. Instead have one or two people plate all the food and bring it to each person individually (or put in someones spot before they sit down). Use disposable dishes and cutlery to avoid anyone coming into contact with the virus or have each person load their own dishes into a dishwasher. If you want a no hassle meal, consider ordering from a restaurant that will prepare individual meals in their own boxes. Then simply hand one to each person. If snacks are more your thing, stick to individually bagged snacks that people can take and open themselves.
- Birthday Cake: If it is a birthday make plans in advance for the cake. If children are involved they will likely want to blow out their candles. Use cupcakes, make a smaller cake to be solely used for the birthday boy/girl, cut them a piece in advance or wave a plate to extinguish the candles. There are lots of options but make sure you prep your child in advance so that they know what is happening.
- Activities: If you are not planning to serve food, make sure you have activities scheduled to keep everyone busy. Food often is a focal point of an event, simply removing it is not a great idea. Instead replace eating with something else.
Communicate and Have Fun!
Regardless of what safety measures you choose to do, or ignore, it will be extremely important to communicate to your guest what is happening so that there are no surprises. Everyone understands that we are in a pandemic and that events may have a few differences to them but showing up hungry to an event only to realize that you have opted to not serve food or your guests just assumed that everyone would be everyone would be social distancing only to be greeted with a hug at the door will result in many people feeling uncomfortable or leaving early. It is also important to remember that these events are supposed to be fun. We have a few extra precautions to keep everyone safe but at the end of the day this shouldn't impact the overall enjoyment of your event. To make sure your event goes off well, here are a few things to consider.
- It is a good idea to touch base with each guest individually to discuss the safety plans you have in place and give them the opportunity to ask questions. This can be in a generic email that is sent out prior to the event and should include information about overall safety, the venue, food as well as any other notes. This is also when you want to mention whether masks are to be worn or if there is enough room to social distance.
- Find fun ways to social distance or wear face coverings. For example, I mentioned above using hula hoops and playing the floor is lava. You could also use the theme of the party to assist. For example choose a theme such as ninjas or western bank robbers where face coverings are part of the costume.
- Find a fun way to let everyone know each others comfort levels. I've seen social media posts where people are asked to choose a different colour of bracelet upon arrival. Each colour has a different meaning that lets others know how to treat you. For example, red might mean that you are socially distancing so other guests should give you lots of space whereas green might mean that you are fine with getting hugs.
- Understand that everyone has different comfort levels and no matter what you do, some people may decline your invite. Don't take it personally.
- Understanding that not everyone can meet up in person. With certain travel restrictions it may not be possible for people to come and see you. Can you include some sort of online portion? This could be setting up a Facebook live or taking lots of pictures and videos that can then be shared with those who couldn't come.
- We are living in a pandemic, remember that you don't have to justify yourself to anyone. If you are not comfortable with people going into your house, let them know unapologetically, preferably in advance.
I hope that these suggestions have given you some ideas on how to navigate the interesting landscape that is COVID. It is possible to host a really fun event while still keeping everyone safe. If you enjoy party planning, make sure you check out some of our other party planning articles that we have written.