The Memorial Day barbecue marks the unofficial beginning of summer. It’s a tradition: An afternoon of burgers, hot dogs, potato salad, and beers in honor of those who lost their lives fighting for American ideals. The days are longer. The air is warmer.
Not this year. Thanks to the coronavirus, 2020 has been a year of broken traditions: Commencement speeches are virtual, weddings are mostly postponed, and funerals have lost the comfort that comes from gathering with friends and loved ones.
There are no rules against hanging out in your own backyard in the age of COVID-19. But because Philadelphia and its surrounding counties are still in the red phase — that requires residents to stay home except for essential trips — you really shouldn’t be having a cookout this year with folks other than those who live in your home. After all, we are still under the shelter-in-place rules.
Well, for the most part. Just before Memorial Day, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced he would lift the number of people allowed to gather outdoors to 25 people. “If you were looking forward to gathering with your neighbors for Memorial Day cookout, you may do so,” he said in a news conference. “So long as social distancing and personal responsibility remain the order of the day.” But he also said that social distancing is key, and that means wearing masks, too.
At the same time, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli also cautioned people to avoid gathering with anyone outside of their household. So it’s important to exercise caution.
And, after months of this, some people are, despite the advice, finding ways to see others at a distance. We’ve written about why this is not a good idea, but if you’re going to do it anyway, you should understand where the risks are. We talked to Nate Wardle, the press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health about the dangers.
Remember: This won’t be forever. Once Philadelphia moves into the yellow phase, gatherings of up to 25 are allowed. But for now, we’re only supposed to spend time with people in our own households.
But you can absolutely throw a barbecue for people in your own house. And people who have been quarantining together don’t have to stay six feet apart. If your neighbors are hanging out in their backyards, too, that’s fine, but be sure to stay — at least — the required six feet apart from anyone who you don’t live with. That means it’s probably best to grab a dog, a beer and retreat to your own stoop or side of the fence.
Remember even if you feel well, the virus can be spread by people who don’t have symptoms at all. Most importantly, if you are symptomatic — that means you have a dry cough, trouble breathing, are running a fever, lost your sense of taste or have stomach issues — stay inside.
And if you are an older person or at risk due to underlying conditions, you need to be especially careful.
There is no known risk of getting the virus from food. The risk is other people. But you should avoid getting sick right now, so lowering your risk of food-borne illness is a good idea. According to the CDC website, if food is handled properly and cooked to the proper temperature — 145 degrees for whole cuts of beef, pork, veal and lamb and 160 degrees for ground meats and all poultry including ground chicken and turkey — then your food should be safe.
The risk is from touching items that other people have handled. So if you want to make food for someone, you can, but be careful about how you drop it off for them. Here’s how to deliver something safely right now. The key is keeping it contactless.
Which means a lot of the usuals are risky: Buffets are out, shared coolers are out. “It’s important for people to work to keep from touching and potentially exposing other people,” Wardle says.
You may think it’s OK to have people in your backyard and keep your distance. But what if someone needs to use the bathroom? You should not have people in your house who don’t live there. Because once they do, you will have to think about all the surfaces they may have touched and disinfect.
Only people who you are in quarantine with should be in your house.
With any luck, the Fourth of July will be a more social holiday.