It has been a long six months, and we’re all tired of the “new normal.” For many, foregoing social gatherings has been one of the most difficult changes to everyday life.

Unfortunately, the threat of COVID-19 hasn’t gone away. To protect each other and prevent further spread of the virus, we all still need to take the simple measures of frequent hand washing, maintaining six feet of distance, and wearing a mask in public.

But if you can’t take it anymore and feel the need to get friends and family together, there are some measures you can take to make your event as safe as possible.

1. Limit the number. Smaller gatherings allow guests to spread out within a space.

2. Consider who is on your guest list. Guests who all share similar philosophies on COVID-19 prevention will help everyone feel at ease. Obviously, anyone who is feeling at all unwell, has tested positive, is awaiting test results, or has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive should opt to stay home.

3. Hold it outdoors. This also helps with the issue of space. In addition, being outside provides more air circulation, which helps disperse germs.

4. Pay attention to set up. Space out chairs and tables to help guests remember to keep their distance. Leave the lid off the trash can and cooler to eliminate frequently touched surfaces.

5. Wear masks. When they aren’t actively eating or drinking, guests should have a mask on – even at outdoor events – because they’ll be within 6 feet of each other.

6. No hugs. Wearing a mask and offering a wave or “air hug” instead of any close contact helps set the tone for safety. Have some disposable masks available in case anyone forgets theirs.

7. Make hand hygiene easy. Provide hand sanitizer and consider paper towels instead of hand towels in the bathroom.

8. Use bottles or cans. This will keep many hands from touching pitchers and keg taps – or suggest BYOB.

9. No potluck or shared dishes. Individually wrapped meals and items in single-serving packages keep guests from handling the same serving utensils, condiments and drinks.

10. Serve your guests. If everything can’t be individually packaged, have one person dishing food, serving condiments and pouring drinks. Servers should wear a mask, as well as gloves.

11. Choose activities wisely. Games played at a distance that minimize shared items are the best – think kickball, corn hole, ladder ball, lawn darts and bocce ball. If there are any shared items, be sure to have disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer nearby.

12. Politely refuse help with clean up. Bringing things inside yourself will keep items from being handled by lots of hands and minimize the number of people in and out of your home.

Keep in mind, it’s a matter of managing risk. We can’t reduce it to zero, but planning ahead can minimize the risk of spreading germs and starting an outbreak in your social circle.

Ashley Hildreth, RN, is the patient safety officer at Beaufort Memorial and former assistant director of its ER. She is also a Board-Certified Emergency Nurse (BCEN).