Individually served meals are safer than buffet lines.
Individually served meals are safer than buffet lines. (Heirloom/Instagram)

Hugs and kisses at crowded buffet lines are still discouraged, but there are ways to celebrate that reduce the risk of COVID transmission.

Hopefully, Zoom birthday celebrations, virtual seders and drive-thru sukkahs will soon be only memories.

After a frightening spring COVID surge in Michigan daily average cases have declined to about 100. However, public health authorities are concerned about a virus variant that is more transmissible and potentially more severe.

Vaccinations are probably responsible for much of this progress, but not everyone has been vaccinated. COVID is still prevalent in Michigan, so health authorities urge continued precautions. 

So, hugs and kisses at crowded buffet lines are still discouraged, but there are ways to celebrate that reduce the risk of COVID transmission. Outdoor celebrations are recommended because the possibility of coronavirus transmission is much less than indoors.

Dr. Dennis Cunningham
Dr. Dennis Cunningham

Dr. Dennis Cunningham, medical director for Infection Control and Infection Prevention at Henry Ford Health System, says, “Outside is so much safer, especially if most guests have been vaccinated.” 

He is “not too worried about outdoor events” and plans to attend one himself. “Hopefully, you can trust people,” he adds.

However, if multiple households are included in a party, he suggests that young children, who are not yet eligible for vaccines, wear masks. Since some children can’t keep masks on, Dr. Cunningham says that it may be best not to include these kids.

Regarding food service, Dr. Cunningham says that food handling is not a major transmission source for COVID. However, buffet lines bring people close together and potentially increase the chance of virus spread.

Sharona Shapiro
Sharona Shapiro

Sharona Shapiro, West Bloomfield community activist, volunteer and frequent cook and hostess, says that “visual messaging” is important. She is planning an anniversary party with a small group of vaccinated friends outdoors at a friend’s lakeside home.

Instead of a buffet or family-style food service, Shapiro plans to have one server wearing gloves and a mask place individual servings on guests’ plates. Some items will be packaged separately in mason jars or as wrapped sandwiches. Guests will be able to choose a packaged ice cream from a cart. 

“I want to make sure that people are super comfortable,” Shapiro says. During the pandemic she hosted several socially distanced parties and gatherings around fire pits outside, offering guests individually packaged food.

Indoor Events

For indoor events, Dr. Cunningham recommends limiting the number of unvaccinated people and providing ventilation through open doors and windows. While a small number of people who have been vaccinated have subsequently contracted COVID, Dr. Cunningham says that they experience mild, short illnesses that are much less severe than unvaccinated people. 

Many Detroit-area synagogues and temples are holding small-scale outdoor and indoor events, the latter often socially distanced religious services. Temple Israel’s caterer, Heirloom Catering and Events, has handled socially distanced events inside the temple as well as at covered outdoor spaces there and at private homes. 

Carole Wendling
Carole Wendling

“We have done away with the so-called ‘buffet’ tables and have condensed it down to doing fun entrée-style passed appetizers in individual serving vessels with tops to avoid cross-contamination from multiple people touching the same serving utensils,” says Carole Wendling, director of operations, Heirloom Catering, West Bloomfield.

“We do anything from cute little charcuterie cake boxes to petite mason jar desserts. The same thing with beverages, compostable plastic cups with cool branded stickers to match your event name/theme with tops and striped straws. It is all in the details and presentation

Families and friends really want to celebrate in person this season and the COVID vaccines allow this to happen, with some precautions, in relative safety.

As Wendling points out, “Events these days are certainly more intimate, which I personally like a bit more!” 

State and Federal Guidelines for Masks and Gatherings

The Centers for Disease Control recently stated that masks are no longer required for fully vaccinated individuals indoors or outside. Fully vaccinated means that the individual is two weeks past vaccination — two injections of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one shot for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

As of June 22, both indoor and outdoor settings in Michigan increased to 100% capacity, and face masks are no longer required although individual businesses will still be allowed to require masks if they choose.

For information and the latest updates, visit michigan.gov/coronavirus and cdc.gov/coronavirus.