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Social gatherings in a pandemic: Finding creative ways to have a good time while staying safe

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Social gatherings in a pandemic: Finding creative ways to have a good time while staying safe

Fall and winter bring important religious events and cultural festivals for many communities, and the need to connect with loved ones in this season is palpable. And then, of course, winter is a few weeks away which might prompt people to spend more time indoors. With COVID-19 rules dictating that social gatherings need to be restricted, Canadians are trying to find creative ways to have a good time while staying safe – both indoors and outdoors.

Gathering inside safely
As Indian-born Sanchari Sen Rai and her friends settled down in her Toronto home in October, to watch the livestream from Belur Math – a Hindu temple in India – broadcasting their annual Durga Puja celebrations, there was a familiar sense of warmth and bonhomie.

Sanchari Sen Rai (in white and red sari) with her bubble, celebrating Durga Puja in her basement

“We were all decked up in our traditional sarees. While the priest was conducting the rituals on the livestream, we were complimenting each other on our clothes in hushed tones. Exactly how we would all be in a temple, excitedly discussing our outfits while the puja (religious ritual) went on,” she says with a laugh.

Rai has been in a bubble with her close friends and their families, in line with existing regulations, since the beginning of the pandemic,  meeting only on special occasions and keeping up social distancing while meeting indoors. For this particular day – a major festival for the Bengali community – the group made sure that they were spread out in Rai’s home. While some members of the group took the upstairs rooms to hang out, the others took turns to view the livestream in batches in Rai’s spacious basement.

Albanian-born microbiologist and associate professor at York University, Dasantila Golemi-Kotra, advises caution even in these social bubbles. “The risk of exposure to novel coronavirus becomes significant in prolonged indoor gatherings with poor ventilation and where physical distancing is not possible. Considering the above risks of COVID-19 transmission, keep the people in your bubble at a minimum. If you must gather indoors, ensure that people that you are inviting can maintain the physical distance. It is best to keep the gathering for a short time, one hour at best. If your intention is to spend more than one hour (with physical distancing), think about wearing face masks and/or ensure extra ventilation,” she says, urging extra caution this year when winter rolls in.

Keep your distance outdoors
It has been widely recommended in this pandemic that, if needed, people should meet and interact outdoors.

Dasantila Golemi-Kotra

“Outdoors interactions are safer. But at times, cold weather drives us towards gathering closer to each other. So, avoid close-up and prolonged encounters (a 10-15 minute close encounter can be sufficient for an exposure to the virus to happen). If physical distancing becomes an issue, use a cloth face mask, this will not only offer some protection from the cold, but it will inhibit the respiratory droplets too,” says Golemi-Kotra, adding that while her family will choose outdoor activities to enjoy the winter, they plan to be cautious with the crowds, by going skating at odd hours or sledding in the hills close to home. Physically-distanced walks or meetups in parks or any large open area, bike rides and patio dinners are all great options to fight the winter blues.

Burmese-Canadian chef and owner of AVIV Immigrant Kitchen, Robert Chee is gearing up for winter patio season and hopes that the community and the neighbourhood will rally like they did in the summer and fall months. AVIV’s owners and chefs are from all over the world and their food has been a big hit for years with their clientele. With the help of the wage subsidy and loan provided by the government, Chee and his partners were able to get through some very difficult months.

Burmese-Canadian chef and owner of AVIV Immigrant Kitchen, Robert Chee

Like some other restaurants in the city, they have been trying to find ways to keep the patio open. “We will have small, portable propane heaters at our tables so that patrons can still enjoy outdoor dining. We also offer our guests a cup of hot water with lemon when they come in  and we are always told by our patrons that this little gesture is so appreciated!” says Chee.

Just like at AVIV, restaurants across the country are finding innovative ways to keep customers warm: whether by constructing portable pods  and tents or giving out thermal blankets.

Chee mentions that making reservations in advance help due to limited seating in their backyard patio. For those still anxious about stepping out, AVIV like many other establishments is making their exclusive products like sauces and pickles available to customers – a great incentive for the holiday season.

And speaking of the holidays, while Halloween wasn’t at its spookiest best this year, some neighbourhoods tried to salvage it with creative methods of dispensing candy to eager kids. Candy chutes and pre-packaged treats were a common sight, with some families also opting to modify the celebrations by screening a scary movie in their backyard or taking the little ones for a drive around the block to enjoy decorations.

As we go into the holiday season, one thing in certain – we all need to learn  to adapt and find creative ways of celebrating with our families and friends – whether it is virtually, indoors or outdoors – while following public health guidelines to keep safe.

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