Tailgating during the COVID-19 pandemic is a risky thing to do—there is no getting around that fact. Indeed, many colleges have put a strict ban on tailgate parties in order to try and curb the spread of the virus.
But here’s the thing—tailgating is arguably safer—assuming reasonable social distances and hygiene practices are observed—than a lot of other social activities. Why? Because tailgating is an outdoor activity.
As The New York Times explains, “In one study of more than 7,300 cases in China, just one was connected to outdoor transmission.”
The outdoors is well-ventilated. For that reason, going to a tailgating party is probably a lot safer than, say, eating and watching a game indoors in a restaurant or sports bar.
If you are going to attend a tailgate party, you do need to limit your contact with other participants and take other basic steps to limit potential exposure. Here are some tips to help you do that.
1. Wear a mask, and stay away from anyone who doesn’t.
Many of the rules for safe tailgating are the same as they are for doing pretty much anything else in public during the pandemic.
That means that you should be wearing a mask at all times. You should only remove it when you are eating or drinking.
Ideally, you should only attend events where everybody else is following the same protocol. But if you do see anyone not wearing a mask, keep as far away from that person as you can.
2. Avoid being vocal, and stay away from others who are vocal.
In its recommendations, the CDC says that tailgaters should be “discouraged from yelling, chanting, or singing.”
This makes sense, being as doing these things increases your chances of infecting someone or becoming infected. That is even true if you are all wearing masks.
Focus on other ways of showing your support for your team., i.e. visually instead of audibly.
3. Bring your own supplies, and do not share supplies.
Traditionally, tailgaters share food, drinks and other supplies with each other. But you cannot do that safely during the pandemic.
So, you should make sure that you have all of the supplies you will need, including food and drinks. Do not accept these things from other people, even if they are offered, and do not share your own items with anybody else, even if you believe you are not infected.
4. Have your hand sanitizer ready to go.
Even though you should be able to limit your contact with items that are not your own pretty effectively, you should still have plenty of hand sanitizer ready.
Be sure to use it liberally throughout the day anytime you think you might need it (i.e., after handing takeout boxes, bottles, or so forth, or after you return from the bathroom). Disinfectant wipes are also useful to have on hand.
5. Try to keep parties local.
he safest tailgating parties will be those that are small and local. Thankfully, with college sports, that should be easy.
But you may want to avoid tailgating parties at major stadiums for professional sports, as those might attract people from distant parts of the country. Travelers may carry coronavirus from regions where the virus is more widespread.
6. Stay in your own zone.
The organizers for the party you attend may or may not draw lines on the pavement to designate zones for each vehicle/family.
Whether they do or not, it is important to stay in your own area. And if there are no such visual cues, you might want to consider drawing your own with chalk, especially if you have kids with you who might need a reminder not to wander into other peoples’ space.
7. Find ways to interact that don’t entail breaking social distancing rules.
If you have friends at the party, you may want to keep in touch with each other on your mobile devices even if you are in shouting range. Remember, it is important to avoid shouting, so it is better just to type or video chat with one another.
8. Set up a canopy tent for your group.
One of the best recommendations for keeping as safe as possible during a tailgating party is to bring a canopy tent with walls.
CBS reports on how the Horn-Ball Texas Tailgaters found a safer way for fans to enjoy University of Texas at Austin tailgating events.
The article quotes group owner Ryan Lepper explaining, “We put together a proposal that outlined and used Gov. Greg Abbott's guidelines for the state, Department of State Health Services, and put it into a proposal on how we can do a special event that's socially responsible.”
The group’s proposal involved the use of canopy tents. Lepper says, “Each tent is a family unit, very similar to like a restaurant. So within that tent that family unit could be within that 6-feet range, but outside of that you must maintain your distance and a mask."
The group did receive approval to move forward with the party. While their canopy tents did not include sidewalls (thus functioning largely as visual cues for each household’s zone), one could feasibly choose a tent with sidewalls and set them up so that they form a barrier against the wind. This might provide a little bit of extra protection from participants who are upwind from you.
Stay Safe Tailgating, and Have Fun
There is no way to completely eliminate the risk of catching coronavirus when you are at a public event, even an outdoor event like tailgating.
Nevertheless, by following the recommendations above, you can keep your risk of catching the virus or passing it to others to a minimum.
Choose events where social distancing rules are strongly encouraged, or organize one yourself, and avoid those where people are not wearing masks or are sharing items or space with other households. Have a great time supporting your team with other fans, and do all you can to stay safe!