Health

Can I host a kids party in my backyard? Your COVID-19 questions answered

We're answering your questions about the pandemic. Send yours to COVID@cbc.ca and we’ll answer as many as we can. We’ll publish a selection of answers every weekday online, and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network.

From outdoor birthday parties to soap types, here's what you’re asking us today

Many parents are wondering if they can host an outdoor birthday party for their children. While advice varies from province to province, some experts say it might be tough to maintain physical distancing with younger kids. (Galit Rodan/The Canadian Press)

We're breaking down what you need to know about the pandemic. Send us your questions via email at COVID@cbc.ca and we'll answer as many as we can. We'll publish a selection of answers every weekday on our website, and we're also putting some of your questions to the experts on the air during The National and on CBC News Network. So far we've received more than 45,000 emails from all corners of the country.

Can I have people over for an outdoor kids birthday party?

With BBQ season upon us, and restrictions easing on certain gatherings, Canadians are hungry for social interaction and wondering about the best way to host backyard get-togethers. Christine B., who lives in Ontario, wants to know if this means she can host a five-guest birthday party for her nine-year-old son.

Social gatherings of up to 10 people with physical distancing are permitted in Ontario, as well as fixed social circles involving 10 people. But the province is still strongly discouraging non-essential in-person gatherings of any size. Strict social distancing measures still have to be observed among guests who don't live in the same household.

So while Christine's small guest list would technically be allowed, it might be wise to consider the challenges of physical distancing with children.

"I would be cautious about child BBQ birthday parties," said Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto. "Particularly once the sugar — pop, cake, etc. — gets consumed."

"Outdoors is safer if we aren't touching each other a great deal, and that's just hard to manage with a group of children."

Most experts agree that the risk of catching the virus is very low when you’re outdoors and not close to others. However, having people over for a BBQ — even with grownups — carries some risk. (Galit Rodan/The Canadian Press)

Most experts agree that the risk of catching the virus is low when you're outdoors and not close to others. However, having people over for a BBQ — even with grownups  — carries some risk.

And Furness warns the more people you invite, the higher the risk. "You turn your back and guess what's happening? They're mingling." 

Earl Brown, an emeritus professor of virology at University of Ottawa, takes a harder line on outdoor gatherings. 

"Five people from one family is very different than five individuals from five different families," he warned. "Long periods in close contact? The risk of infection goes way, way up."

Looking at outbreak data, Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist and associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Alberta, identified meal sharing as a "potential issue."

"That might just be because people are sharing high-touch surfaces," she said, "buffets are [a] disaster with handles being touched and stuff."

Saxinger said you should avoid common serving bowls: "Maybe have individualized pre-plated things so that people aren't having to handle and touch the same utensils and dishes." 

For activities, Saxinger said you might want to consider separate individual craft or activity stations spaced one to two metres apart. 

If guests have family members who are considered vulnerable, or are essential workers, she said they may want to reconsider attending for risk of transmission.

Remember, advice may vary from province to province so check with regional health authorities on their latest guidelines. 

What if my guests need to use the bathroom?

When it comes to using the bathroom, Saxinger said it is reasonable to let visitors into the house, if they do so individually and practise good hand hygiene before and after using the toilet. 

It's also a good idea to clean high-touch surfaces like switch plates, doorknobs and faucet handles after everyone leaves. 

You might also want to check out this article that looks at how to mitigate the risks with many favourite summer activities.

Does it matter what kind of soap I use to wash my hands?

The hand soap aisle is packed with so many different brands and many of you, like Mardelle K., are asking if you should be choosing one over the others.

The short answer is no, it doesn't matter. 

WATCH | COVID-19: Does the kind of soap I use to wash my hands matter?

Doctors answer your questions about the coronavirus in Canada. 3:45

"Any soap should do," said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infectious disease specialist and researcher based at Toronto General Hospital. "Soap is soap, is soap. It'll work and it's effective.

"If soap isn't available, hand sanitizer with at least 60 per cent alcohol should suffice." 

Dr. Zain Chagla, infectious disease physician at St. Joseph's Healthcare in Hamilton, Ont., agrees. "It doesn't matter which brand, antibacterial or not, it all basically does the same thing." 

The virus is covered by a lipid layer that's similar to grease. Soap breaks the layer down and once that happens "the virus is basically naked and unable to function," explained Chagla. 

"People don't have to worry about the soap they use, they just need to use it more often." 

What about using soap and water to clean surfaces in your home?

While cleaning with soap (or detergent) and water kills the coronavirus, removes dirt and impurities and lowers the risk of infection, Health Canada said it "does not necessarily kill germs" which include other bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa.  

Health Canada's list of approved hard-surface disinfectants kills germs on surfaces using chemicals while being safe for everyday use.


Saturday we answered questions about using and refusing cash

Keep your questions coming by emailing us at COVID@cbc.ca.

With files from Hallie Cotnam

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