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How to Celebrate the Fourth of July Safely This Year

Experts share tips about COVID-19, fireworks and heat

With the Fourth of July fast approaching and Illinois proceeding with phase 4 of reopening the state’s economy, many people understandably have a strong desire to be out of their homes and socializing.

While parks and friends’ backyards will be open to celebrate July 4, it’s still important to interact safely with others amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Even though more places are reopening in Chicago and around the state, there still is a risk of infection with the COVID-19 virus when outside your home.

Along with lowering your risk for infection, remembering other safety tips for firework safety and avoiding heat exhaustion is also important for staying safe this holiday weekend.

Lowering COVID-19 risk during July 4

Even though Chicago and Illinois recently have been successful at slowing the rate of COVID-19 transmission in the city and state, the disease is far from gone for good. People leaving their homes and participating in social gatherings still should maintain social distancing, face masking and hand hygiene.

Remember to keep your distance

Wherever you go this holiday weekend, remember that keeping six feet of distance between yourself and anyone who doesn’t live with you is one of the best ways to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. This distance is how far most droplets containing the COVID-19 virus can travel before hitting the ground if someone is talking or sneezes, and maintaining it protects you from inhaling those droplets.

This precaution is especially important if you are indoors, but it’s important to maintain it outside, too. It’s also crucial if you’re around people whom you’re not sure have been properly protecting themselves.

“Even if you’re around trusted friends, they may not be aware they were exposed and potentially could be transmitting COVID-19. Therefore, you should protect yourself by adhering to social distancing guidelines, hand hygiene and wearing a face mask,” says Alex Tomich, DNP, RN, associate vice president, regulatory and clinical effectiveness, who oversees Rush’s infection control department. “Unless you know, there’s always going to be a risk. Then it’s going to be a challenge to be safer than not safe.

“Six feet seems like a big difference, but it’s not,” adds Tomich, who says that groups of people can arrange themselves in a triangle around a central location to gather more safely.

Don’t forget your face mask

When you can’t keep six feet away from others, be sure to wear a face mask. “Masks are effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19,” Tomich says. “There has always been evidence that masks deter viral transmission.”

When out to eat or grab a drink on a patio, remember to keep your mask on until you get to your table, and if possible don’t take it off until after ordering from your server. “Wearing a face mask and maintaining social distancing are especially important now, as people are allowed to gather in small groups,” says Rush infectious disease expert Michael Lin, MD, in a recent health and wellness article on rush.edu. “We have seen that outbreaks tend to arise from gatherings where people are in close proximity indoors.”

Don’t let up on hand-washing

Whether you are going out to eat or stopping by a friend’s home this holiday weekend, meticulous hand-washing is still one of your greatest protectors against COVID-19. While you may be tired of singing hand-washing songs and washing more than usual, hand hygiene is vital to getting rid of COVID-19 and other germs or bacteria that may be on your skin. Washing your hands or using hand sanitizer whenever possible while you are out of the house and when you get back home will add a layer of defense against COVID-19.

What about travel?

If you July 4 plans include travel, make sure you know what precautions are needed. Both flying and driving come with their own set of risks for infection and transmission.

Lisa Rosman, MD, a family physician at Rush University Medical Center, provided the latest information about travel so you can make informed decisions about any potential trips.

Rosman highlighted issues with flying, such as prolonged waiting time in airports, and precautions you should take while in an airport. They include wiping down surfaces and making sure the airline you are flying with is doing temperature checks.

Rosman also discusses driving being the safer alternative to flying — but be careful at rest stops and gas stations — and the risks of different travel locations and accommodations.

General July 4 safety tips

Fireworks safety

Fireworks are a main staple for most Fourth of July celebrations. While fireworks can be a fun activity with the family, handling fireworks safely should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

The National Safety Council advises that the safest way to enjoy fireworks is by watching public displays conducted by professionals. However, if you and are family or friends are set on using fireworks yourself, the NSC has a set of tips to properly handle fireworks.

This list includes not letting your children handle fireworks, never using fireworks when impaired by drugs or alcohol, and never holding lighted fireworks in your hand, along with other great tips. The NSC also talks about the dangers of sparklers and how to correctly use them as well.

Stay hydrated and cool

With 2020 on track to be one of the hottest summers on record, staying cool and avoiding dehydration this holiday weekend may be a tougher task than usual.

Heat illnesses can occur when the body is not able to properly cool itself. While the body normally cools itself by sweating, it may not be enough to combat extreme heat.

Rush University Medical Center family medicine physician Kush Desai, MD, and emergency medicine physician Meeta Shah, MD, discussed the distinguishing factors of common heat-related illnesses and provide tips to help you stay cool and safe during the scorching summer months.

During this holiday weekend, make sure you are drinking enough fluids and staying cooled off throughout the day.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, you can still celebrate the Fourth of July. If you make sure you are adhering to social distancing and other COVID-19 precautions, plus fireworks safety and staying hydrated, having a backyard barbecue or picnic at the park can be done safely, and an enjoyable summer weekend is still attainable.

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