Fourth of July fireworks shows, cookouts and beach vacations will look very different this year. As Covid-19 cases continue to surge across the country, the issue of how to celebrate and socialize safely is top of mind for many Americans.
This weekend is "set up a perfect storm" for virus transmission, Dr. Joshua Barocas, infectious disease physician and assistant professor at Boston University School of Medicine, said in an Infectious Disease Society of America briefing Wednesday. The combination of travel, reopening and people relaxing guidelines contribute to the increased risk.
Experts say that the increase in coronavirus cases in late June can be traced back to Memorial Day weekend, when lockdowns ended in many states and people celebrated the holiday. So what can you do to avoid a repeat situation after the upcoming holiday weekend?
Here's how to minimize your risk of Covid-19 this Fourth of July:
Though people may understandably find it challenging, the best way to protect yourself and others is to stay home. We need to balance safety with "our individual and societal need for interactions," Barocas said.
It's important to remember that "the virus isn't gone," Barocas said. In fact, Covid-19 is surging in many states. And the fewer people you interact with, the less of a risk you have of contracting Covid-19.
"The most surefire way to protect ourselves and others from Covid-19 is to continue to shelter in place and stay at home, even if local and state jurisdictions don't have these orders in place," Barocas said. If the prospect of being around people or crowds makes you nervous, don't do it.
If you are around other people, remember the key Covid-19 prevention measures: practice good hand hygiene, maintain social distance and wear a mask in public places. (Wearing a mask is completely safe to do, and it will not cause CO2 poisoning or lower your oxygen intake.)
"These [rules] all still apply," Barocas said. "They protect you and they can protect people around you.
If you're socializing with other people outside of your household, it's best to do it outside, where there's more airflow and room for respiratory droplets to disperse, Barocas said. While outside, you should still maintain at least six feet of physical distance from others, and of course, wear a mask.
If you can't hang outside, then the CDC suggests opening windows to increase ventilation.
"To the extent possible, we should be avoiding places where there could be a high density of people, that includes pools and that includes beaches," Barocas said.
In Los Angeles County and some counties in Florida, beaches are closed this weekend to deter people from congregating in groups. In New York City, however, beaches opened for the first time this summer on Wednesday.
There's no evidence that Covid-19 can be spread through the water in hot tubs, pools and water play areas, according to the CDC. Large natural bodies of water, like lakes and the ocean, can dilute the virus and decrease your risk. But even if the pool or body of water is technically safe, the people present are still of concern, Barocas said.
Kids should be maintaining the same social distance as adults, Barocas said. Of course, this is challenging, especially around play areas. So consider activities that don't require a lot of interaction with others and can be done wearing a mask, like flying kites, kicking a soccer ball back and forth or going on a nature walk.
If you play with any outdoor, "high-touch toys," such as frisbees and balls, you should clean them with a disinfectant wipe before you bring them inside, he said.
Bars in some states (such as Texas, Florida and Arizona) have closed once again as cases spike. Bars are especially bad news for Covid-19 transmission, because they're often crowded and noisy, which leads people to talk louder and spread more respiratory droplets, Dr. Ricardo Franco, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said in the briefing.
"If you have bars, you have music. If you have music, you want to socialize. And you want to speak louder than usual so you can overcome the background noise," Franco said.
On top of that, consuming alcohol and becoming intoxicated may make you less careful about following important safety measures.
Skip the grilling, and instead have people bring their own food, drinks and utensils, Barocas said. There's no evidence that handling or consuming food will transmit Covid-19, according to the CDC. But if everyone at the cookout is touching the same items, then eating, the virus could easily transmit from a surface to your mouth, nose or eyes. Or you can have one designated person to serve all the food, to minimize the amount of shared items, the CDC suggests.
"Anything that you can do to limit your physical interactions with others will help reduce the spread, even in places where there are low rates," Barocas said.
It's important that everyone washes their hands or uses hand sanitizer before eating to avoid contamination.
Spending more time outdoors means more exposure to sun and bugs. Pack your own bottles of sunscreen and bug spray, and don't share them with people outside of your household to avoid unnecessary contact, Barocas said.