Since becoming a federal holiday in 1870, the Fourth of July has always been celebrated across the nation with parades, picnics, barbecues, concerts, ceremonies and fireworks displays.
This year’s Independence Day was quite different, of course, due to the coronavirus pandemic, as evidenced by the cancellation of many fireworks shows in the region.
But do we have to forego all of the traditional social activities associated with those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer?
No, says Dr. Vinisha N. Amin, a family physician with University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health in Bel Air.
“Look, COVID-19 is here to stay,” says Dr. Amin. “But there are safety measures we can take, and there are safe ways of transitioning to a new normal. There are absolutely safe ways to entertain.”
For instance, she says, “When choosing between [planning an event] indoors or outdoors, especially during the summer, always choose outdoors. Propagation of the virus is much riskier inside than it is in the open air.”
Dr. Amin stresses the importance of frequent handwashing and insists that face masks must be worn, whether indoors or outdoors, at all times to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“When one person is wearing a mask and another isn’t, or when neither person is wearing a mask, there is a 70 percent chance that COVID-19 can be transmitted,” she says. “When both people are wearing masks, the chance of acquiring or transmitting the virus drops to 1.5 percent.
“The mask is essentially serving as a barrier for the virus. They may be a little uncomfortable, but they are highly protective.”
Dr. Amin recommends selecting a mask that is “well-fitted. You should be able to smile and have your whole smile contained in the mask.”
If uncertain about buying a mask, she urges people to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for instructions on how to make a protective face covering.
When entertaining indoors, Dr. Amin advises keeping all gatherings to less than 10 people. An even better rule, she says, “is to create a visual of your area and see how many people can fit, allowing for them to stay six feet apart.”
At gatherings, Dr. Amin recommends using disposable utensils and paper goods, and having hand sanitizer available at all times.
“Make sure everyone knows they should not be sharing utensils and putting their bare hands into the food.” she says.
If you’re taking off your mask to eat, make sure you are at least six feet away from other guests.
“COVID-19 has been extremely taxing — emotionally, mentally and physically — on all of us. It’s OK to go outside [or] to have one family come over as long as you’re practicing good hygiene,” says Dr. Amin.
She also reminds people to pay attention to local media reports and guidelines from local health care experts.
“This is a dynamically evolving process,” Dr. Amin says. “Something that’s OK today might not be OK tomorrow.”
Keeping Consumers Safe
In response to the pandemic, many caterers, events planners and food service providers have instituted new guidelines to keep consumers safe during throughout the summer.
For example, Eddie’s of Roland Park has implemented a variety of precautionary measures for safe food service. These include increased cleaning and sanitizing at the Roland Avenue and North Charles Street locations; the use of personal protective equipment by employees; protective partitions at checkout lines; limiting the number of customers in the store at any given time; and offering social distance for customer assistance, such as personal shopping and delivery services and curbside pickup.
“We have seen an increase in demand for small group catering this summer,” says Candice Lane, Eddie’s catering manager at the Roland Avenue store.
Lane says Eddie’s Staycation Supper Club, a rotating series of heat-and-serve dinner-for-six menus, “has been especially popular during this time.”
“This is a delicious way of answering our customers’ appetite for adventure while acknowledging current travel limitations,” says Eddie’s of Roland Park co-owner Andrew Schaffer.
Says Nancy Cohen, president/CEO of Eddie’s of Roland Park: “The health and safety of our employees, customers and vendors is of primary importance of us, and that extends through to our catering and kitchen operations as well.”