How to Have a Happy Birthday Party

Throwing a birthday party was complicated enough before COVID-19. Now parents have to factor infectious-disease risk into their plans, too. But don’t worry — our four-step plan breaks things down into manageable tasks.

Liz Ruark
Outdoor image with birthday banner hanging in the trees

December 2022: Whenever you test yourself for COVID at home — whether you’re positive or negative — you should report your result. The results are kept private and anonymous. Every test that gets reported helps public health teams better understand where outbreaks are happening, so they can get help to people who need it.

Every household in the US can order four free rapid tests at or by calling 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7489).

It’s almost your little one’s birthday! They’re excited for their party — and you’re already exhausted just thinking about planning it. Or maybe you’re excited too! Either way, there’s one part of the process that’s new in the 2020s: COVID-19 safety. Here’s how you can factor that into your plans, so you can celebrate your kiddo more safely.

Step 1: Check the “weather” — and your risk tolerance.

How’s the COVID “weather” in your area? If the COVID-19 Community Level is high — or looks like it will be by the time the party happens — then you may want to consider postponing the event until the surge passes. If your family or guest list includes children under age 5 or people at high risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, then you may want to wait until levels are quite low before you host a social gathering.

However, there are ways to make your celebration more COVID-safe that don’t involve changing the date. Friends in my area held outdoor parties even in the midst of a New England winter. They organized games that didn’t require the kids to get too close to one another and served individual snack bags and cupcakes instead of sharing food around a table. Other anti-COVID techniques include requiring all guests to be vaccinated, test themselves immediately before arriving, and/or wear masks. It’s your party — you get to make the rules. 

Step 2: Inform your guests.

That being said, it’s only polite to let your guests know well in advance what your rules will be, so they have time to decide whether they feel comfortable attending. I have a friend who’s super COVID-conservative — as of autumn 2021, she hadn’t stepped inside a store for a year and a half. When my kids were organizing our family’s annual pumpkin-carving party that October, I knew she’d want to know exactly how I was handling COVID-19 safety. And I understood that it was up to her to decide whether she felt her child would be safe enough at the event. We held the party in the garage, which my kids decorated with ghosts, orange lights, and one very scary-looking demon-squirrel sculpture named George. With the garage door wide open and the kids masked, my friend’s kid was able to attend.

Step 3: Gather supplies.

Snacks? Check. Party favors? Check? Rapid tests, masks, air cleaner, hand sanitizer? Check, check, check, check. The COVID-19 precautions you plan to have in place will determine which tools you need.

Want your guests to test right before the event? Have a stock of rapid tests ready in case someone forgets and needs to test before coming in the door. If you have private, commercial health insurance, you can purchase up to eight rapid tests per person per month and get reimbursed by your provider (check with your provider for the details on how to get your money back). Folks on Medicare, military beneficiaries, and others have additional options.

Want your guests to mask? Have a stock of high-quality KN95, KF94, or N95 masks ready in case someone leaves theirs at home. You can get free N95 masks at some pharmacies. Project N95 is a nonprofit online source for masks that checks the quality of all the products they sell. If you buy masks from other sources, make sure you’re getting the real thing and not a fake.

Want to make sure the indoor air is as clean as it can be? The CDC has a nifty ventilation tool that can help you figure out how best to tidy up the air in your home. If you want to add an air cleaner to your toolkit, the Clean Air Crew website has a great resource that explains what to look for — and what to avoid.

Step 4: Take a deep breath — and relax and have fun.

Connections with friends and family members are important — and we’ve missed out on a lot of them over the past two years. For people who love social gatherings, parties aren’t frivolous — they’re part of the joy of being human. Now that we know more about how COVID-19 works, and how best to prevent it from spreading, we can hold them more safely. All we need are the right steps, and the right tools.