How to Have a Picnic Safely During a Pandemic

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You really want to go outside; here’s how to do it safely.

If you’re ready to break out of quarantine for some sunshine and relaxation, a picnic might sound enticing—especially if parks are open in your area. Can you picnic safely while there’s a coronavirus outbreak? Yes, but like many activities in pandemic times, you should plan ahead with some precautions.

Is It Safe to Picnic? The short answer: yes. An outdoor picnic is a relatively low-risk activity. Outdoor activities generally pose a lower risk of coronavirus transmission than being indoors, assuming you maintain social distancing. It’s easier to maintain space between yourself and others, and outdoor wind may help blow the virus away.

Who Can Share a Picnic? Whether you’re picnicking at a local park or in your own backyard, where you picnic is less of a concern than who you picnic with. If you’re picnicking with only your own household, you can plan your outing as you normally would with minimal extra precautions. But if you’re in mixed company, you’ll need to plan for space and eliminating shared items.

The first thing is to make sure all the people attending the picnic have been socially distant themselves and are safe to share a picnic with, it’s best to only go to picnics with close friends and family at this time. Basically, just try to use common sense and keep the picnic limited to ten people just to be safe.

Planning for Distance – Planning out your space is key. If you’re picnicking privately with your household, such as in your backyard, you don’t need to worry. At a park or other public location, you’ll need to make sure you can claim enough space—for you and any other picnic attendees.

Parks can get busy, so make sure you plan ahead. Look at the park hours before your visit and consider peak traffic hours. It may be safer to visit early in the day, or during the week, rather than other more busy times when you might be squeezed for safe space.

If you’re picnicking with others, plan to bring separate blankets, chairs, and other gear and measure out space so you’re still close enough to visit, but not close enough that it’s an infection risk.

Don’t Share Items – You don’t have to share food or drinks to have a nice gathering. Although you might relax sharing rules in your household, it’s not safe to share with others. If you’re meeting up with anyone outside of your household, plan ahead to avoid sharing food, drinks, utensils, chairs, and other picnic gear. Set clear expectations on who is bringing what to the picnic. Your social distance plan can easily fall apart if not everyone is prepared.

Planning Food – Prioritize food that requires little preparation onsite, since you probably can’t wash your hands with soap and water. Single serving, prepackaged items are easiest. And it’s best if you can eat food with utensils rather than your hands. Think: pre-cut fruit and pasta salads.

And while your main concern may be the coronavirus, don’t let your guard down on food poisoning. Make sure you’re keeping food at a safe temperature. That potato salad can’t sit out all day. Use a cooler filled with ice to maintain food-safe temperatures, or pack foods that are safe at warmer temperatures, like PB&J sandwiches, trail mix, and uncut fruits and vegetables.

It’s easiest if you pack food in disposable containers. For example, takeout containers you’ve collected and don’t really need, or plastic sandwich bags. The same goes for disposable plates, utensils, napkins, and cups. Be ready with trash or grocery bags you can fill and drop directly into a trash can onsite. It might not be environmentally friendly, but it means you don’t have to pack out any potentially contaminated items.

Picnic Gear to Pack – You should bring the usual picnic items: food, blankets, sunscreen, plenty of drinks, and entertainment. But you’ll need to add a few more things to your list, namely, cleaning supplies.

The most important thing is to bring enough disinfecting wipes or rubbing alcohol to make sure everyone is safe before eating.

The good news? You probably don’t need to pack a mask. For one thing, it’s not practical while eating and probably not necessary if you’re outdoors and socially distanced. I don’t think masks are necessary.