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With caution, summer fun can be had during pandemic

Sara Porter

MPR News

Summer has arrived in Minnesota. At the same time, the state has been relaxing some of the regulations that were in place to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 - meaning family picnics, patio drinks, pool parties and other summer staples are back on the table, so long as you follow the rules set out by health officials.

Those rules are still extremely important. The Health Department recently reported a cluster of cases in the Mankato area traced to people gathering in bars.

Here are some frequently asked questions about what's allowed and how to stay safe this summer.

Can I have a picnic, BBQ or bonfire?

You sure can, but you'll have to limit the guest list. Only 10 people are allowed to gather indoors and up to 25 can join in on outdoor events. Health officials still ask that you stay 6 feet apart from those outside your household, wear a mask when interacting with others and if you are in a high-risk group, avoid gatherings all together.

There's no evidence suggesting the virus is being spread through food or food packaging. Sharing food and drinks, however, is still highly discouraged as it's possible respiratory droplets can transfer from a person's mouth or hand onto shared objects and surfaces.

It's probably best if guests bring their own food and refreshments. Also remember to clean cooking tools, surfaces and hands.

If you're feeling sick, stay home.

What about going to the pool or beach?

There's no evidence that COVID-19 is spread through water, be it for drinking or playing. Still, the guidance remains the same: Stay 6 feet apart from fellow swimmers and sunbathers.

Wearing a mask while swimming could make it difficult to breathe but make sure you bring one for when you're out of the water, it helps keep others safe. It could also make for an interesting tanline, so don't forget the sunscreen.

Speaking of sunbathing, do UV rays and heat help kill the virus?

It's a common misconception as other viruses like the flu tend to taper off in hotter months. But warmer climates around the world have reported many cases of COVID-19 and, while it's something health experts continue to study, there's little evidence suggesting ultraviolet radiation from the sun kills the virus either.

On top of that, prolonged exposure to UV rays can cause serious damage to your skin and overall health. Seriously, wear sunscreen.

Can mosquitoes spread the virus?

While still a menace, you don't need to worry about catching COVID-19 through a mosquito bite. It's a respiratory virus, spread primarily by droplets when someone coughs or sneezes. There is no evidence mosquitoes can carry it in the blood they suck from you and others.

Can my family and friends go to a cabin?

That's tricky. All safety guidelines apply for gatherings no matter where you are so it really depends on if your cabin is big enough to allow for proper social distancing. Health experts suggest sticking to outdoor gatherings as much as possible and keeping all surfaces, especially frequented ones in the kitchen and bathroom, disinfected.

How about group camping?

The same rules on social distancing apply, but it's likely much easier to follow them when camping. Campgrounds across the state received guidelines for operating safely that include limiting total guests at a site and keeping shared spaces clean and uncrowded.

The guide includes rules for visitors, too. Mainly, come informed on the rules set out by the campground and prepared with supplies to cut down on the need to interact with others outside your household and group.

What about a fishing trip?

Again, it really depends on how well you can keep the proper distance away from those outside your household.

The Department of Natural Resources also asks that you stay as close to home as you can when picking a fishing spot. You can find more of their guidance on fishing safety on its website. Don't forget, you'll still need a license.

Are team sports allowed?

Team sports are allowed, for both youth and adults - but to varying degrees.

For tennis and other sports where competitors remain relatively far away from one another, games and competitions can resume with little incident.

Basketball and other sports involving more contact are limited to practice and group size requirements, like keeping players in pods of no larger than 25 participants.

The same rules on gathering size also apply to spectators and organizers as well as participants - no matter the sport and even if the event is held in a public space.

Can I do solo or group exercises?

Outdoor exercise is permitted and encouraged. But, you guessed it, you'll still need to keep your distance from others while biking, jogging, doing yoga in the park or any other activity outside your household.

And if you get to your favorite park or trail and see there are too many people for it to be possible, state officials suggest you find another spot.

The same goes for dog parks. While keeping your furry friends apart may be a futile effort, make sure you keep your distance from other dog owners and avoid petting animals outside your household. While there's no evidence so far that you can catch COVID-19 from your pet - though there have been some confirmed cases in animals - it is possible respiratory droplets with the virus could be carried on a pet's fur.

Can I go out to eat?

Yes. Both indoor and outdoor dining is now permitted at Minnesota restaurants. The regulations include limited capacity for any space to allow for social distancing. Restaurant workers are required to wear masks, and customers are also "strongly encouraged" to wear masks on their way to and from their table, as a way to protect workers. Reservations are also required.

Curbside pickup remains available. So feel free to grab some walk-up or drive-through ice cream, just keep the same safety precautions in mind that you would at any other store or restaurant.

For more statewide news on COVID-19, visit the Minnesota Public Radio News website at mprnews.org.