So, Can I Have People Over for Dinner Now?

A figure casually sits cross-legged outdoor on a chair reaching across the lawn towards a plate of food with an oversized fork. The figure is wearing a medical mask for protection as well as blue latex gloves. Illustration.

From whether you should use disposable utensils to how to social
distance outside, here’s our best advice for entertaining during
coronavirus.

Eve

Welcome to House Rules, Curbed’s advice column; today, our
columnist answers questions about our relationships with our
neighbors. (The last column explored
getting along with your neighbors
while sheltering in place.)
Other house-related dilemmas? Fill out the
question form
. Can I have friends over for dinner?

I’m going to say a provisional yes.

After over three months of total self-isolation in which I went
without any IRL social interaction at all, I understand the
importance of spending time with friends and loved ones. In the
last month or so I’ve hosted and attended several outdoor dinner
parties, from a low-key meal with takeout dumplings on paper plates
(I hosted) to a multi-course home-cooked extravaganza with cloth
tablecloths and fresh floral centerpieces (my friend hosted), and
each gathering has felt deeply soul-restoring and even
essential.

That said, COVID is as deadly as ever, and this pandemic is

far from over
. We simply can’t afford to go back to sharing
meals or spending time with friends and family in the same ways we
used to.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the choices we make about
socializing this summer have life-and-death stakes, not just for us
but for everyone we come into contact with. It’s extremely
important to get it right.

Does it matter if we’re indoors or outdoors?

It matters a ton! Unfortunately there is simply no safe way to
eat and drink with other people indoors (unless everyone is fresh
from weeks or months of strict quarantine). The absolute best way
to get COVID is to spend
maskless time inside with others
, especially if there is eating
and laughing and talking involved. Every
small gathering
risks becoming
a super-spreader event
.

The good news (and there is good news!) is that
hanging out outside while social distancing is relatively safe
.
COVID droplets disperse rapidly in the open air, and if you’re
keeping your face far from other people’s faces, you are highly
unlikely to get sick or get them sick.

Just don’t let the mere fact of being outside lure you into a
false sense of safety. It’s still essential to keep your face out
of droplet range of others. If you’re not socially distanced from
someone, wear a mask. This can be hard for kids to remember, and
it’s hard for some adults too.

Some options for socially distant outdoor dinner parties in
yards, courtyards, driveways, or parks:

➤ You and your guest can sit at opposite ends of a large
picnic table (pretend you are Belle and the Beast
in Beauty and the Beast
).

➤ Each person or household can sit at separate tables that are
at least six feet apart. It’s possible to carry on a shared
conversation this way, especially if everyone sits so that they are
facing the people at the other table(s). I have a couple different
friends who host gatherings like this once or twice a week, and
after a while it seems almost normal.

➤ Everyone can bring individual camp chairs and/or picnic
blankets and position them within conversational range (but out of
COVID range) of each other. You can also use
individual folding tray tables
to pair with folding chairs.

➤ Bathrooms are an issue. At the social gatherings I’ve
hosted and at some I’ve attended, people have briefly gone inside
one at a time while masked to use the facilities. It’s not
riskless, but it’s
relatively low-risk
. If you are not planning to provide
bathroom access, be sure to let people know in advance so they can
plan accordingly.

Should we only invite people who have tested positive for
antibodies? And do we just take people at their word?

Antibody tests are basically irrelevant. For one thing, they are
not that accurate.
According to the CDC
, you might get a false positive if
you’ve had other coronaviruses such as the common cold, and you
might test negative even if you currently have COVID, since it can
take 1-3 weeks for antibodies to show up after infection. You might
test negative if you already had COVID, since
antibody levels tend to plummet
within a few weeks or months of
infection. And even if you get a positive test result that was
completely accurate at the time you took it, we simply don’t yet
know
how much protection antibodies offer
and for how long.

Meanwhile COVID tests in their current form aren’t much
better. False negatives are
very common
, and results can take
a long time
to arrive.

Scientists are working on developing
cheap take-at-home COVID tests
that people can take every day,
like pregnancy tests. Something like that seems like it could
instantly transform our lives into a nonstop round of indoor dinner
parties. But we’re not there yet.

In the absence of reliable testing, we have to rely on our own
risk-reducing behavior and the behavior of those around us. If
you’re considering being unmasked indoors with someone, ask
yourself, “Would I trust this person with my life? Should they
trust me with theirs?” because that is what you are both
doing.

Is it wrong to invite a friend of a friend, or someone that the
group is less familiar with? As the host, should I share the full
guest list with everyone so they know who’s joining?

It’s always nice to let other people know who will be at a
gathering, but this is more of a courtesy issue than a safety
issue. Your baseline assumption should be that everyone you invite
might be contagious. This goes for your best friends as well as for
strangers.

Do we need to avoid using the same utensils or pouring wine from
the same bottle?

Surfaces
aren’t a major mode of transmission for COVID
. In fact,
worldwide, there is
only one possible documented case
of someone getting COVID from
a surface, so it’s highly unlikely you are going to get COVID
from touching a bottle. That said, it can’t hurt to provide hand
sanitizer at the table for guests, and if you want to provide
separate bottles of wine for each household, I imagine nobody would
complain.

The main risk in pouring wine from a shared bottle is less the
contact with the bottle itself than the proximity to others. For
this reason it makes sense to set up a buffet station where people
can serve themselves food or drinks one at a time.

When it comes to sharing utensils, it matters whether you’re
sharing communal salad tongs (low risk) or your own personal dinner
fork (not recommended).

How should I prep guests? Pre-dinner email?

An email is a great idea. There’s so much variation in
behavior these days—some people are acting as if the pandemic is
a thing of the past, while others are scrupulously masking and
social distancing. I’ve felt incredibly awkward and scared when
friends-of-friends have gone in for a hug the second they meet me
(I’m not even hugging my family and closest friends right now!).
Meanwhile, I feel fine about taking off or lowering my mask
outdoors when I’m socially distant, but I know that this choice
can freak other people out.

In order to make sure everyone is on the same page, it’s
helpful to spell out the protocols for your dinner party in your
email (what are your expectations and plans regarding masking,
social distancing, bathroom use, etc.?). That way guests know what
to expect, and they can either adapt their behavior to the norms
you set or stay home.

What about renting a house with friends? How can we safely share
space?

Again, there is no truly safe way to be unmasked indoors with
people unless you have all been strictly quarantining for
weeks.

I do know several people who are quarantining in preparation for
vacation with people outside their households. One friend and her
husband and daughter are planning to share an AirBnB with another
family. She says,

This is a family we’re very close with, who we have a lot in
common with (interests, temperaments, parenting philosophies), and
who like us have been strictly sheltering-in-place/quarantining
since March. We wouldn’t consider it with any other family we
know. We have been having regular awkward yet necessary
conversations to ensure we’re on the same page about what we are
and are not comfortable with, not unlike convos you might have with
s****l partners. We’re taking it very seriously.

If you aren’t up for these awkward conversations, your best
bet is to find a place where you and your friends can stay in
nearby houses, cabins, or camp sites, so you can spend socially
distant time together outdoors and then retreat to your own
separate spaces. As another friend reports,

My friend crew here in Maine just did our annual queer camping
trip … Different campsites for all pods, food handled separately,
but then we’d gather (mostly distantly, and again myself and my
s.o. hung back from group portions that weren’t distancing)
around the fire.

It’s hard to accept that we have so many more months of
masking and distancing ahead of us, but if we find safe ways to
spend time together now, we can increase our odds of enjoying some
old-fashioned, air-conditioned, mask-free, socially-close friend
time sometime in 2021.

Source: FS – All – Architecture 10
So, Can I Have People Over for Dinner Now?