After coming full circle back to the month where it all started last year, we can’t let our guard down just yet.
For the past few weeks, we’ve been hearing that COVID-19 numbers are on the decline, with fewer reported cases, fewer hospitalizations and more vaccines delivered each day.
That’s overwhelmingly good news. But if you’ve checked out the March calendar, there is a glaringly obvious dilemma facing many Americans bolstered by the positive health reports. While welcoming milder, spring weather, the entire population will also be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day March 17, March Madness basketball festivities starting March 18, Passover starting on the 27th and Easter April 4. That’s all in a span of two-and-a-half weeks. And that’s a prescription for parties.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a party as much as the next person. I love a nice big charcuterie board and I really love a full nacho bar, where nachos, cheese, meat and everything else are dumped out on a covered table and scooped up family style. And I certainly love a holiday buffet served up for the whole crew.
But after coming full circle back to the month where it all started last year, we can’t let our guard down just yet. Some of the biggest mistakes we can make when these festive days arrive would be to gather in large groups, serve up communal dips and other germ-spreader foods, and eat and drink in close proximity to one another, packed in a living room or dining room.
“I think from my standpoint the medical community is very hopeful because we can all see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Dr. Bevin Dolan, Chief of Infection Prevention at Chestnut Hill Hospital and a private practice physician at Delaware Valley Infectious Disease Associates at Lankenau Hospital. “The important thing to remember right now is that there is still a huge portion of the population that remains vulnerable.”
Dolan cautions that in the past year, when precautions decrease, viral cases increase. Her biggest suggestion? Take the parties outside.
“Things can break down very quickly when you are with family and friends who haven’t seen each other in a while,” Dolan said. “My number one tip is if you are going to gather with someone who doesn’t live in your household, do it outside.”
Dr. Matthew O’Donnell, D.O., a family practitioner at Tower Health Family Medicine of Flourtown, echoed those sentiments.
“I’m in agreement with outdoors. We’ve seen spikes after Thanksgiving and Christmas because of the indoor gatherings,” O’Donnell said. “We do still have to be extra diligent. If people think March Madness is going to be like it was two years ago…there is risk with small gatherings. People should be wearing masks, staying six feet apart and not sharing objects.”
At Glenside’s Seedling and Sage, caterers for the Flourtown Country Club, managing partner Melissa McDevitt is focused this spring on creating special events in this new COVID-19 world. The company is putting together its first wedding in a year this month, and she says hosting an at-home event is a lot like the limited-capacity events she is orchestrating – meaning there are a lot of precautions hosts must take.
At any gathering, disposable silverware wrapped in napkins for each guest is a must, as are disposable beer and wine cups and dishes. If guests are sitting for dinner, limit the number of people you invite, open windows for ventilation, encourage mask-wearing when people are walking around or using the restroom, and try to seat families or those who have been bubbling together in one spot.
“One of the most important things is that people mentally feel safe,” said McDevitt. “People don’t want to be close to or seated with strangers or a neighbor of a neighbor. And nothing can be self-serve.”
If there is a buffet, not only should it be served by only one person instead of self-serve, but universal containers for water, alcohol, juice or coffee stations should be a no-no, as should communal dips, hummus, nachos and even cheese trays.
Much as McDevitt’s staff serves guests at a catered event, drinks even at a home party should be poured into someone’s cup while they are seated. And forget the charcuterie board. McDevitt suggests pre-plating individual servings of cheese and crackers, or individually-plated hors d’oeuvres like bruschetta.
Just as restaurants have cut back on or eliminated the family-style plating in the center of the table, it should be eliminated at home get-togethers, as should reusing glassware that could be put down, forgotten and mixed up between guests.
“For an event like St. Patrick’s Day, try to keep people in their seat as much as possible, and put nothing in the middle of the table for people to share,” McDevitt said.
And it goes without saying that you “really have to watch little kids,” McDevitt added. “Set a table that’s for them and give them juice boxes and boxes of snacks or bags of chips.”