As the pandemic drags on and on, many of us are trying to find ways to live our lives again, while still following COVID safety guidelines. I'd like to share some of my strategies for hosting friends and family during these very strange times.
|Sunset at Parksville Community Beach|
Following Public Health Guidelines
Before I write about some of my strategies, I'd like to emphasize that I always look at our provincial public health website (BCCDC) first, and follow the guidelines there. In British Columbia, we have been successful at flattening the curve and reducing the infection rate, although during the last three weeks the number of new cases per day has begun to rise alarmingly. Lately, we've had upwards of 100 new cases per day identified, whereas a couple of months ago we were down to as few as 4 new cases a day across the whole province. On Vancouver Island itself, as of today, we've had a cumulative total of 190 COVID cases since the pandemic began.
During the flattest part of the curve, and in congruence with the advice of Dr. Bonnie Henry, our Provincial Health Officer, Rob and I felt comfortable gradually increasing the frequency of our outdoor socializing, and have hosted a number of outdoor get-togethers.
Knowing our Risks and Risk Tolerance
How we have evaluated our personal risk and the risk we pose to others has changed gradually as more scientific knowledge about the virus has become available. So our practices have slowly changed, and might change again should we need to adapt to an upsurge in infection rates.
We have educated ourselves about what we need to do to stay safe and keep others safe. (See BCCDC website linked above.) We are fortunate that we live in a semi-rural area and we're both retired. Therefore, we're not subject to possible exposure in a workplace. As well, neither of us has a pre-existing medical condition that puts us more at risk. Our biggest personal risk factors are our ages (64 for me, and 71 for Rob), and the fact that Rob is male. Neither of us is a caregiver for someone with fragile health.
Of course, other people have different risk factors to consider, depending on where they live, their personal health situation, work status, and their household members' circumstances. So consider nothing that I write here as a recommendation; it might not apply to you. Follow your local public health advice instead!
Where to Meet
|Mothers' Day 2020|
The short answer to this is -- outdoors! We live in a climatic zone where May through September weather is usually quite lovely, and fine for gathering outdoors.
One of our first get-togethers was with our daughter and her family for Mothers' Day in May. We met at a local beach. We brought separate food for ourselves and they brought their own picnic. We made sure to maintain two meters (six feet) of distance.
Over time, we formed a bubble with our daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren, so we now share food, sometimes meet indoors, and are more relaxed about the the two-meter distancing.
|Service Group Meeting Outdoors|
We've also continued to make good use of local parks. For example, my son and girlfriend met us at a popular picnic site at a lake. They drove separately and I brought my grandsons in my car. Although other families were at the park, we had no difficulty maintaining a two meter distance from them.
|Picnic at a Park|
We shared the same picnic, but used hand-sanitizer liberally.
Finally, in our jurisdiction, public gatherings are legally limited to 50 people. However, for us, practically, we have limited gatherings we've hosted to a handful of people, and never more than a number that can easily keep a 2 meter distance on our deck.
Cleaning and Sanitizing
People who know me well know that housecleaning is not my favourite activity. Nevertheless, I have done a lot of cleaning during the pandemic.
When people come over to our deck, we clean the table and chairs with disinfectant. If no-one has used the deck for a number of days, we leave it at that (because the virus cannot survive for long outside in the UV light). But if it has been used recently, we also clean and sanitize the railings and any other surface that might be touched. When guests come, they select a chair cushion from the storage box, so that they are the only person who has touched their cushion.
We are fortunate to have more than one bathroom. So if we are expecting anyone to come over, we designate the main bathroom as the guest bathroom and do not use it. I clean and sanitize the entire bathroom, paying particular attention to high-touch surfaces such as light switches, faucets, door knobs, and the flusher handle. I provide single use towels, soap, and a spray bottle of disinfectant. I leave the lights on, toilet over up, and door open. After the gathering, I leave the bathroom to rest for a couple of days, then clean it again.
We provide bottles of hand-santizer placed within easy reach of the guests. When cleaning up afterwards, I wash my hands with soap or sanitize them after handling anything someone might have touched.
In the cases when a family member has come to stay with us (my son or middle daugh
|Wearing a Mask my Friend Made Me|
ter), I cleaned the spare bedroom and then left it to rest for 2-3 days before they came. They had the main bathroom for their own separate use. Although they were inside the house,we practiced physical distancing during their visit (mostly).
Food and Drink
As I mentioned above, early in the pandemic, we did not share food. Everyone brought their own. But as we've decided to once again offer guests food and drink, I have developed the following methods to reduce risks. I don't use all of these suggestions at the same time. It depends on who is present and their comfort level, as well.
- no potlucks. I am the only person preparing food
- drinks in cans and prepackaged items (although too much packaging is poor environmental practice, and the virus seems to be able to live longer on plastic packaging than on food)
- only the host pours drinks
- separate serving bowls and serving implements for the other couple
- separate condiments for the non-household members
- pre-plated desserts rather than self-serve, or only the host serves
- provide hand-sanitizer and explicitly ask everyone to sanitize their hands before and after serving themselves
- only one person or couple goes to the food table at a time
- maintain 2 meter distance between people
- compostable paper plates and compostable disposable cups
- mask wearing except when eating
- as the person preparing the food and setting out the dishes, I wash my hands before and after touching anything
- guests not allowed to help with clean-up
Another thing we keep in mind is being prepared to cancel on short notice if either Rob or I don't feel well, or if the weather doesn't permit gathering outdoors. And, similarly, it's necessary to be understanding when a guest cancels, or doesn't feel comfortable gathering with others. I think it is good practice to explicitly remind people not to attend if they are not feeling well.
I will be interested to hear what others are doing in terms of hosting gatherings in places where the health standards permit some degree of social gathering.