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The Fourth of July is coming up fast and, while the holiday has historically been a time to celebrate with friends, things are a little different this year. Cases of COVID-19 are surging across the country, causing public officials in states like California, Florida and Arizona to shut down bars, beaches, parks and other places that people typically hit up on the holiday.
That raises a major question: What can people do to celebrate the Fourth of July safely? And is it even possible to celebrate the holiday in the traditional sense at this point?
“People need to be careful as they celebrate the Fourth of July — that is important,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life.
“The virus is going to be at Fourth of July celebrations,” Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, adds. “You have to be very careful about situations in which you are going to be close to people.”
Here’s what experts recommend you do to stay as safe as possible if you decide to celebrate the holiday in traditional style this year.
When you’re traveling
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has very specific recommendations online about how to stay as safe as possible when you travel, and a lot of it comes down to doing your best to space out from others, trying to avoid touching your nose and mouth and wearing a mask.
If you’re road-tripping in your own car, the CDC recommends limiting the number of people in your vehicle to only those necessary, like immediate family members. Opening windows and setting the air conditioning on non-recirculation mode can also be helpful for good ventilation, the CDC says.
But some situations, like what to do when you need to eat and use the bathroom on the road, aren’t covered. It’s tempting to invest in a portable potty — and you definitely can — but Schaffner says it’s not a requirement. If you need to use the bathroom, he recommends wearing a mask, trying to stay six feet away from others and washing your hands well with soap and water afterward. (Given that soap isn’t always a given at rest stops, Schaffner says it’s not a bad idea to bring along sanitizing wipes or hand sanitizer, just in case.)
For on-the-road food, Schaffner recommends sticking to places with drive-throughs. And, he says, you’re probably OK to not wear a mask when you get your food at the pick-up window, although it’s a nice courtesy to slip one on if you have it handy.
And, if you have to pump gas at some point, Schaffner recommends sanitizing your hands as soon as possible afterward — ideally before you do things like touch your phone or the steering wheel.
Going to intimate gatherings, like BBQs
The CDC also has advice online on how to safely host a gathering or cookout, and a lot of the tips apply to people who attend one of these gatherings, too. The CDC specifically encourages people to stay six feet apart, try to stick with single-use items and condiments or appoint one person to handle serving, wear masks, bring their own food and drink, stay in well-ventilated areas and wash their hands often.
The people at the gathering matter, too, Schaffner says. “If it’s going to be a large group, maybe you should avoid it,” he says. It’s also important to consider who will be there and how careful they are about trying to limit their exposure to COVID-19, if you can find out that information. “If you know they haven’t been careful, this is an environment where the COVID virus has more potential to spread,” Schaffner says. “I would avoid that BBQ.”
While you watch fireworks
Fireworks in many cities have been canceled, but there are still some public and private displays scheduled for the holiday. If you plan to go to one, Schaffner recommends doing your best to stay away from others. “Try to avoid people,” he says. That includes staying on the edge of a crowd and attempting to check out the display in an area where you’re more likely to be able to spread out, like on a beach or in a park, if possible. Fireworks — and the crowds they can attract — can be tricky, though. “This may be one thing that you should just watch on TV,” Schaffner says.
"Crowds are dangerous and should be avoided," Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Life.
If there's the option to do drive-in fireworks, that's definitely safer than going into a crowd, Watkins says. Just keep in mind that leaving your car — to go to the bathroom, grab refreshments or talk to friends — raises your risk. "If you can stay in your car, that would be better," Watkins says.
When you’re at the beach
Each local municipality has its own recommendations and guidance about what you need to do when you visit the beach, many of which are closed for the holiday weekend. Some require that you wear a mask, for example, while others don’t.
To be as safe as possible, Schaffner recommends wearing a mask when you’ll be around others (think: going over the dunes or along a narrow entrance path) and doing your best to be as spread out as possible from other people. Visiting the beach during off-peak hours — assuming your local spot remains open — is also a good idea to allow for more social distancing, Adalja says. And, once you’re settled in the sand, he recommends “avoiding congregate settings where there are large groups gathered.”
"Go when not crowded and leave when it starts to get crowded," Watkins adds.
At your community pool
Many public pools are closed, but some community pools are open, with restrictions. Staying at least six feet away from others is important, both in the pool and on the deck, Adalja says. You’ll also want to be wary of high-touch surfaces like handrails and doorknobs. “If you touch a handrail, clean your hands before you touch your face,” Adalja says.
If you have kids, Schaffner recommends being cautious about them interacting with other children. “Children like to all get together and it can be hard to keep them apart,” he says.
At your local park
It really depends on what you do here, Adalja says. “If you’re congregating with people, there are going to be transmission risks,” he notes.
Schaffner recommends being wary of the parking situation and, if it’s crowded, try to park away from others to avoid close interaction with someone else when you enter and exit your car. But, in general, if you’re able to visit a local park and can stay spread out from others, Adalja says you should be fine.
Overall, Adalja says knowing the ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — and actually practicing them — are crucial. Still, he adds, “there’s no one-size-fits-all here.”
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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