Earlier this month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 at community events and gatherings.
The agency has also issued recommendations to help people manage the risk during other personal and social activities.
In these guidelines, the CDC emphasizes the importance of staying home when sick, maintaining physical distancing, wearing face masks, and practicing good hand hygiene.
The agency also advises event organizers to take local circumstances into account when deciding whether or not to host, cancel, postpone, or otherwise adjust an event or gathering.
“[The CDC guidance] is very much based on the desire to give everybody an idea of what the risks are and help people make informed decisions on how to reduce the risks as low as possible,” Dr. Eric Cioe-Pena, an emergency physician and director of global health at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York, told Healthline.
“It’s based on the best available evidence on what we know about how this virus is spread, with the understanding that people are going to have different risk tolerances,” he added.
Some activities pose higher risk
Some types of community events, gatherings, and activities pose greater risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission than others, warns the CDC.
Virtual events and gatherings held online or over the phone provide the safest option for connecting with other people, the agency advises.
When it comes to in-person activities, smaller outdoor gatherings tend to pose lower risk than larger gatherings and those held indoors.
The less time that people spend in close contact with each other, the less likely they are to contract the virus or pass it to others — especially if everyone wears a face mask.
“The most effective way to reduce risk is to avoid large indoor gatherings altogether. This setting poses the highest risk of exposure and potential transmission of the virus,” said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
“Outdoor events while wearing a mask represent a safer option,” he continued.
“Virtual meetings are the best way to have a meeting in this context,” he said.
Risk varies from place to place
When someone is assessing the risk that an event, gathering, or other activity may pose, the CDC encourages them to take their local circumstances into account.
Some municipalities and states have issued stricter guidelines and rules around events, gatherings, and other activities, compared with others.
The rate of transmission and how likely you are to get the virus also vary from place to place, both within and between states.
If an event or gathering is held in an area where virus transmission rates are high, that raises the risk that someone with SARS-CoV-2 will attend and pass it on to others.
If someone travels to an event or gathering from outside the local area, they may carry the virus with them or pick it up in transit and pass it to other attendees after they arrive.
“Having a family reunion where people are flying in from 30 different states is much riskier than having a cookout with your neighbors,” Cioe-Pena said.
Some people more vulnerable
Some community members face heightened risk of developing severe illness if they do contract SARS-CoV-2.
For example, older adults and people with underlying health conditions may be more likely to develop a severe infection or complications.
The CDC advises people to take those personal risk factors into account when planning an activity or deciding whether to participate in one.
“If it’s a family gathering where there are a fair number of older persons who are over age 60, many of whom likely have underlying illnesses, that’s a group I’d be much more cautious about,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“If the COVID virus got to that gathering and spread among them, it could make a lot of them very seriously ill,” he said.
Protect yourself and others
To lower your risk for contracting or transmitting SARS-CoV-2, the CDC recommends keeping at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and members of other households.
When you can’t maintain 6 feet of distance from members of other households or you’re spending time around those people indoors, the CDC recommends wearing a face mask.
If you’re helping to host an event, gathering, or other activity, you may need to limit attendance, make changes to the layout of your venue, or use other strategies to enable attendees to keep their distance from each other.
If your guests or event attendees will be eating with each other, consider asking them to bring their own food and drinks or take steps to limit the number of people who touch food containers, condiments, and serving ware.
For example, designate one person to serve all of the food.
Frequent handwashing is also important for reducing the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, the CDC advises. So is regularly cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs and light switches.
When in doubt, stay home
If you’ve tested positive for the virus or have symptoms of COVID-19, or you’ve had close contact with someone who has symptoms of COVID-19 within the past 14 days, the CDC advises you to stay home.
If you’re hosting an event or gatherings, ask attendees to stay home if they’ve tested positive for the virus, have any symptoms, or been in close contact with someone with symptoms in the past 2 weeks.
“I think we have to be very mindful that social distancing has flattened the curve in many parts of this country, and if we want to keep it flat, we have to keep doing that,” Schaffner said.
“I know it’s tedious, I know it’s disruptive, I know it’s uncomfortable. I know it makes many people unhappy — but it’s necessary,” he added.