This Is the One Thing You Shouldn't Do at a Barbecue, According to a Doctor

An infectious disease doctor shares his tips for staying safe at summer cookouts.

With summer squarely underway and warm weather blanketing the country, many people have emerged from coronavirus lockdown for outdoor activities and socializing. And while outdoor environments are safer than indoor ones if people adhere to social distancing guidelines, that doesn't mean your beloved summer cookouts are completely risk free, warns Thomas Russo, MD, chief of the division of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo. So, how can you stay safe at a barbecue? Avoid drinking too much and be aware of others who might be.

That's because drinking reduces people's inclination and ability to maintain the recommended guidelines for staying safe.

"We've done it three times, once at our house, and twice at other people's houses—always outdoors, always masks whenever possible, always maximal separation," Russo says of his family's own barbecues in Buffalo, New York, where the caseload is currently low. "But as the evening progressed, people were creeping closer together and their inhibitions were breaking down. You really have to be on guard and alcohol leads to forgetting about following the rules."

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If you're planning a barbecue this weekend, Russo suggests setting up the tables in a semicircle or a similarly distanced configuration that works for your outdoor space.

Remember, the doctor says, there is "nothing magical about six feet" in terms of providing protection from the coronavirus—it's merely the minimum amount of space recommended for social distancing. So, he says to "space [tables] out as far as the ability to interact and communicate permits."

Friends eating at a barbecue

At each table, seat one couple, family, or household group. "If you're living in the same household, then you've already been exposed to one another, so risk should be low to zero," Russo notes.

During the event, ask that guests wear masks when they're not eating or drinking, and invite each party up to get their food in table groups. "Try not to have people stampeding on the food so they're all clustered there," Russo says.

With all of these precautions, an outdoor barbecue can be a reasonably low-risk proposition this summer, he says—noting that the risk of catching COVID-19 from inanimate objects or surfaces is relatively low. But, as a reminder, Russo warns, "you can never drive the risk down to zero."

To see what health officials are advising this holiday weekend, check out The CDC Director Has Issued This Warning About July 4th Weekend.

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Alesandra Dubin
Alesandra Dubin is a lifestyle editor and writer based in Los Angeles. Read more
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