Memorial Day

Do We Need to Wear Masks at an Outdoor Barbecue?

Experts discuss mask-wearing and other safety precautions to take at outdoor gatherings this summer

Group of friends having dinner on back yard and wearing protective face mask, during COVID-19
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Summer is coming, and while the coronavirus situation in the United States has improved, there's still some risk in large gatherings of friends and family.

NBC News investigative and consumer correspondent Vicky Nguyen stopped by TODAY to discuss how people could stay safe while celebrating the summer.

Is it safe to host an outdoor barbecue right now?

According to Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the biggest factor right now is vaccines. While all activities will still carry some risk of COVID-19, having only vaccinated friends and family members at an event can make it almost entirely safe.

"You can pretty much do everything," if all guests are vaccinated, Nuzzo said.

"As for outdoor cookouts, if it's a group of vaccinated individuals and you know everybody there, in that community, then it is a very low-risk situation," said Dr. Anne Liu, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care in Palo Alto, California. "Being outdoors and vaccinated, those two things together, are very low risk."

While Nuzzo acknowledged it might be awkward, it can be helpful to ask guests if they are vaccinated. Try to keep the conversation judgment-free, and avoid causing stigma, but point out that you may need that information to make a risk calculation for yourself and your family.

What about kids and unvaccinated attendees?

Currently, only people over the age of 12 can be vaccinated, which means that young children are still vulnerable to the virus. When in mixed company, Nuzzo said that people should determine their own "personal risk tolerance" but provided some guidelines.

If you're outside and everyone is vaccinated, no masks are necessary. If there is one household that has unvaccinated children, you can still avoid masks, but if there is more than one household with unvaccinated people present, Nuzzo said the safest way to socialize is for those unvaccinated guests to continue wearing masks and socially distance to keep everyone safe. Indoors, the same rules apply.

When it comes to unvaccinated kids, the rules are similar: They should mask up when indoors, but can take their masks off outside so long as they aren't "literally going to be sitting next to each other and breathing on each other for extended periods of time," according to Nuzzo.

"I think it's OK to take a mask break," Nuzzo said.

What about shared surfaces?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stated that the risk of surface transmission is low, so shared items like utensils and condiments are OK, but if you are being very cautious, it can't hurt to leave hand wipes or sanitizer nearby for proper hand hygiene.

When it comes to food, try setting up a buffet-style table with one designated server, rather than having everyone serve themselves. This limits the amount of people touching the shared surfaces and is especially helpful if you have unvaccinated guests attending.

If you're having a pool party, try to make sure everyone has their own towel: Soft surfaces are low-risk, according to the CDC, but having separate ones available is best.

Don't forget about other summer precautions

Coronavirus isn't the only risk this summer. If you're at a party where kids are swimming or playing in water, make sure that there's a designated adult supervising.

When grilling, keep a meat thermometer on hand to make sure that food is cooked to the proper temperature: The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that chicken be cooked to an internal temperatures of 165 F, burgers to a temperature of 160 F, and steaks to a temperature of 145 F.

No matter what, don't forget about the sunscreen: The Food and Drug Administration recommends using at least SPF 15, and reapplying at least one ounce of sunblock every two hours.

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