A series of white circles 10 feet (3.0 m) in diameter, spaced 8 feet (2.4 m) apart, are painted on the grass at Mission Dolores Park in San Francisco to encourage social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the circles were in use on Memorial Day. Edited version with highlights suppressed.

Gathering in the Time of Covid-19

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I am not a health professional, but I’ve been charged with making health policy for my household that affects all of us. Yeah, you, too?

There’s still so much we don’t know about this virus. But you don’t have to be an expert to know that humans need some amount of in-person social interactions for mental and emotional health. After months of sheltering and with no clear recovery in sight, fatigue is real. We need to find a way forward that sustains us in all the ways that matter.

I made this Safer Gatherings tool for my family to help us make consistent choices as a household. As such, it is meant for families, especially those with tweens and teens, circumstantial households (e.g., Craigslist roommates), two-family pods, and any groups that need to align on Covid-19 risk tolerance.

The tool consists of a house agreement template and a risk assessment worksheet. The PDF also includes two examples.

A few remarks:

  • The tool is primarily a framework for thinking about and discussing risk — the risks of individual events and the overall risk of the cumulative choices of household members over time.
  • There’s nothing magical about the scoring. The risk matrixes are not weighted. Since we don’t know which factors contribute most significantly to transmission, it treats them all the same.
  • The tool has nothing to say about the value or importance of a backyard BBQ, graduation party, or a mass demonstration. Only you can determine which benefits are worth the risks for you and your household.

As you weigh the risks and value of any gathering, also consider these questions and practices:

  • Are any attendees or household members of attendees immunocompromised or at higher risk for Covid-19 complications? Think through the 2nd- and 3rd-degree risks of your gathering on extended members of your community.
  • Walk through what-ifs. For everyone, but especially for teenagers, think/talk through what to do if the safety parameters of the event change on-the-fly. For example, it starts raining, or one or more attendees engages in risky behavior.
  • Modulate the social cadence for your household. Pay attention to data and emerging conditions, and adjust your rhythm. Start slow.
  • Maintain a contact diary. Keep track of who you interacted with, when, and where to help determine who to notify if you get sick or are exposed.

Take good care out there.

Special thanks to Rebecca Petzel for her encouragement and thought partnership, and to Eveline Shen, Eugene Eric Kim, Sarra Ziari, Krista Colletti, Cari Croghan, and Natasha Black for their input and advice.

Photo: Memorial Day 2020 – San Francisco Under Quarantine. By Christopher Michel from San Francisco, USA / CC BY


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