As the world attempts to go back to normal amid the global coronavirus pandemic, what are some of the ways we can safely meet up with the family and friends that we have missed? Many decisions about whether or not to socialise boil down to how much risk you are willing to take on and whether or not you have access to tools like COVID-19 tests (more on that later). Whatever you opt to do, here are expert-approved tips to help make your get-togethers as safe as possible.

  1. Get Vaccinated

“Thanks to the vaccine, we’re now in a situation where the majority of the bad consequences of COVID-19 are preventable,” says Purvi Parikh, MD, a clinical assistant professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and immunologist at NYU Langone, both in New York City.

2. Isolate if you have symptoms

If you have any symptoms of an upper respiratory illness, you should not be at a gathering, whether or not you test negative for COVID-19. It is important to recognize that many common symptoms such as a cough, runny nose, or headache could be COVID-19.

3. Gather outdoors where possible

According to health experts, COVID-19 spreads more easily indoors than outdoors. Since people can’t wear masks while eating and drinking, bringing the party outside reduces the risk of virus transmission.

4. Ventilation

If you choose to gather indoors, opening doors and windows (even just an inch or two) will bring in fresh air which will help with preventing virus particles from accumulating.

If your home or apartment has central heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, you can reduce virus transmission risk by setting the fan to the “on” position rather than “auto” when you have visitors; this will allow the fan to run continuously, even if the heat or AC is not on.

You should also use pleated filters, make sure they fit properly and change them according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

5. Keep your gatherings small

Small gatherings are less risky. An educated guess of a small gathering might be around 10 to 15 people or less. Generally speaking, the fewer households that gather, the lower the risk. 

6. Test yourself regularly

If you are meeting people regularly, it is advisable to test yourself regularly regardless of whether or not you are displaying symptoms. If you have close contact with someone who has tested positive, you should get tested, even if you are vaccinated.

Experts recommend getting a PCR Covid-19 test, three to five days after the exposure to see if you are infected with the coronavirus. You have to account for the incubation period, so if you test too early the test may not pick it up, and then you’ll have a false sense of assurance.

You should avoid going to a gathering until you get back a negative test result.

7. Take precautions to protect the most vulnerable member of the group

Tailor your behavior to minimise the risk for the most vulnerable member of the group. Take precautions such as mask-wearing, frequent hand sanitising. When there are some unvaccinated people in a social gathering — that might include young children who cannot yet be vaccinated, or immunocompromised adults, who may not be able to get adequate protection from vaccines — the best thing to do is surround these vulnerable individuals with other people who are vaccinated. 

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