CNN  — 

With restrictions easing across the country, many people are looking at outside gatherings like barbecues and picnics to reconnect with friends and family. But is it possible to do those activities responsibly? Yes, say the experts — with the proper precautions, you can absolutely spend time with close friends and family, all while staying safe and having lots of fun.

According to the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Smaller outdoor and in-person gatherings in which individuals from different households remain spaced at least 6 feet apart, wear cloth face coverings, do not share objects, and come from the same local area (e.g., community, town, city, or county)” are lower risk than larger gatherings (although the CDC’s lowest risk category is, of course, virtual-only events).

What’s important to consider as well is who you’re inviting and what choices they’re making on their own.

“Beyond who the people attending will be, it also depends on the behaviors of the family and friends,” says Jason Farley, professor of nursing, infectious disease-trained nurse epidemiologist, and nurse practitioner in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Johns Hopkins Schools of Nursing and Medicine. “If you’ve got a group of family and friends who for the most part follow social distancing norms and plan to do so when they’re gathering with you, then they are of lower risk than a group who pretty much says they have given up on non-pharmaceutical interventions like social distancing.”


Essentially, if you’re gathering in a social distant way with anyone, make sure it’s with people who have been just as careful as you have been, and who are serious about wearing masks and washing their hands.

Keep those hands clean and mask up

First, you need to plan to keep everyone’s hands clean and their masks on, says Farley, especially when your guests are arriving or if they are going in and out of the house.

“Going in, wear a mask to the bathroom,” Farley says. “I would advise to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer both on arrival to the party, so everyone starts with a clean set of hands, and then if entering the home, again, prior to entering the home, and upon leaving it.”

Variety 5-Pack of Triple-Layer Cloth Face Masks for Adults ($12.50; oldnavy.com)

Variety 5-Pack of Triple-Layer Cloth Face Masks for Adults

Old Navy has a wide selection of face masks that can fit any party.

Rainbow Face Coverings, Set of 2 ($25; uncommongoods.com)

Rainbow Face Coverings, Set of 2

Hitting a Pride party? These rainbow-festooned masks will amp up the celebration.

Bandana Face Mask With Filter ($39; uncommongoods.com)

Bandana Face Mask With Filter

This easy-on, easy-off mask is perfect for a host going in and out of the house.

Megababe Squeaky Clean Hand Sanitizer ($9.99; target.com)

Megababe Squeaky Clean Hand Sanitizer

This hand sanitizer comes with a lovely scent — orange bergamot — and is formulated with ingredients like almond oil and marula oil to reduce the risk of skin dryness.

Touchland Power Mist Hand Sanitizer ($12; urbanoutfitters.com, touchland.com)

Touchland Power Mist Hand Sanitizer

Or try these colorful, moisturizing sanitizers that fit easily into a pocket or purse.

Jane Iredale Hand Sanitizer ($6; dermstore.com)

Jane Iredale Hand Sanitizer

From skin care legend Jane Iredale, this mini spray bottle will keep your guests’ hands clean.

Fresh Verbena Oval Soap ($15; sephora.com)

Fresh Verbena Oval Soap

Keep the summer vibes going with this fancy hand soap from Fresh that will encourage your guests to scrub their hands clean.

Claus Porto Confetti Guest Soap Collection ($30; nordstrom.com)

Claus Porto Confetti Guest Soap Collection

Don’t limit yourself! This pretty collection has a guest soap for every occasion.

Setting the table

For the best part of your summer party — food and drinks — you’re going to want to be careful about how the guests are served, explains Farley. “Let’s play this dance out,” he says. “Let’s go through what our picnic will look like, and what are ways that I can reduce exposure to my guests of one another?”

What’s key is that people avoid touching, and potentially transmitting covid-19 to one another. “You don’t want everyone’s hands touching a box of spoons or forks or plasticware,” Farley says. “You don’t want them digging through that. So having them already out and set in their own individual cups for guests, and of course encouraging everyone to wash their hands or sanitize before eating too, can definitely help.”

Or better yet, your guests can come with their own cups, plates and utensils to use themselves. Also, instead of setting up a buffet-style food assortment, have just one person serve the food. That person should wash their hands before and after serving, and of course always wear a mask as well.

Though this may seem like a whole lot of rules and restrictions, there’s certainly still room to be festive.

24ct Patriotic Glory Paper Plates Red ($15.30; target.com)

24ct Patriotic Glory Paper Plates Red

These patriotic plates will add Americana flair to any picnic or barbecue.

Line Plaid Paper Plates 154 ct - Up&Up ($9.02; target.com)

Line Plaid Paper Plates

For a garden party theme, these cute gingham plates are sure to please.

Rainbow Dinner Plate 10 ct - Spritz ($1.99; target.com)

Rainbow Dinner Plate

Brighten up the backyard with rainbow-striped dinner plates.

Cutlery Gold 60 ct - Spritz ($5; target.com)

Cutlery Gold

Give your party some glitz and glam with gold plastic cutlery.

Margarita Glasses Turquoise 10 ct - Spritz ($5; target.com)

Margarita Glasses Turquoise

Kick the party up a notch with these everyday margarita glasses.

Palm Leaf Shape Beverage Napkin Green 30 ct - Spritz ($3; target.com)

Palm Leaf Shape Beverage Napkin Green

Show off your tropical flair with these palm leaf napkins.

Rainbow Tablecover - Spritz ($2.50; target.com)

Rainbow Tablecover - Spritz

Show your pride with this colorful tablecloth.

Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Premium Ice Chest Cooler ($118.09, originally $150; amazon.com)

Arctic Zone Titan Deep Freeze Premium Ice Chest Cooler

Cut back on running in and out of the house with this cooler, where you can store all your essentials.

Prodyne Appetizers On Ice with Lids, 16” ($41.99; amazon.com)

Prodyne Appetizers On Ice with Lids, 16"

Make serving your guests easy with this platter on ice.

Caged Metal Café String Lights ($49.99; target.com)

Caged Metal Café String Lights

Use cute lights to set boundaries and guide people to their tables.

Party games they’ll love

Just because you’re distancing doesn’t mean you can’t play your favorite lawn games with your family, says Farley. Just keep your distance and wash your hands.

“I think there are a lot of things that we can do outdoors that are of low risk. And to get into a lot of very specific things, things that keep us distant, but allow us to share, like a cornhole game,” he explains. “Thinking of things where you’re a good 10 or 12 feet apart. Of course, you’re commonly touching those beanbags, so you’d want to wash your hands afterwards.”

GoSports Classic Cornhole Set ($56.99, originally $64.99; amazon.com)

GoSports Classic Cornhole Set

Fly the flag with this family-friendly cornhole game that will make any event a celebration.

Frienda Cornhole Lights ($29.99; amazon.com)

Frienda Cornhole Lights

Have fun after dark with this double set of cornhole boards that light up.

AmazonBasics Bocce Ball Set with Soft Carry Case ($44.49; amazon.com)

AmazonBasics Bocce Ball Set with Soft Carry Case

Bocce ball is the perfect game to play together, while staying distant.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed prices at the time of publication.