Safe Practices for Celebrating Independence Day
As many of us finalize our plans for 4th of July celebrations, we may be feeling apprehensive about how to move forward during this time of uncertainty. It’s true, this year’s celebrations might look a little different than we’re used to, but as Zachary Baeseman, MD, family medicine practitioner and associate medical director at ThedaCare Physicians-Wild Rose and Waupaca explains, we can still enjoy the holiday with a few safe practices in place.
The 4th of July brings with it many traditions, including barbeques and firework celebrations with family and friends. Moving ahead with these plans is still possible, but a few modifications should be made to accommodate social distancing guidelines.
“At this point, it is really up to an individual to decide what is safe and best for them and others,” said Dr. Baeseman. “If you can, celebrate with immediate members of your family. If you choose to celebrate with a larger group, there are certain safety tips to keep in mind.”
Dr. Baeseman offers these suggestions:
- Take part in social distancing, remaining six feet away from one another
- Avoid unnecessary interactions such as handshakes and high fives
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol
- Clean and disinfect common surfaces
- Avoid people who are sick
- Stay away from others if you are sick
“If you are at a greater risk of getting COVID-19 or could have complications, you should take that into consideration,” he said. “You should weigh all factors before making a decision to take part in a celebration with others.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says cloth face coverings help slow the transmission of COVID-19 by people who unknowingly have the virus. When they breathe, speak, cough or sneeze, any virus particles will be trapped in their mask, protecting other people from potentially being infected. Scientists believe respiratory droplets are what cause the spread of COVID-19.
Should community members choose to attend larger events over the holiday, masks are encouraged.
“Cloth or handmade masks continue to be recommended for the general public,” said Dr. Baeseman. “We don’t want to give people who wear cloth masks a false sense of security. Keep in mind, an estimated 25 percent of people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, meaning they have no symptoms. That said, people wearing cloth face coverings play an important role in curbing cases.”
With surgical masks or cloth face coverings, the CDC notes it is important to have them fit as snuggly as possible to your face without restricting breathing. Cover the nose, mouth, and side of the face, and use ties or ear loops to secure the mask.
“You want to limit the air coming out of your mask to avoid the escape of virus particles,” Dr. Baeseman noted. “A snug fit also maximizes protection by preventing any virus particles from coming in.”
Experts advise you clean your hands before putting on a mask and frequently wash your hands while wearing it. Hand or machine wash cloth masks with detergent in hot water and machine dry on a hot cycle. Make sure they keep their shape after drying. Heat exposure deteriorates elastic, so if earloops become overstretched, you will need a new face mask.
People often underestimate their risk of exposure to the sun and heat.
“It’s important to drink lots of fluids when you’re spending time outdoors and it’s hot,” said Dr. Baeseman. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are concerns, know the symptoms and don’t become overheated.”
The Centers for Disease Control shares this list of symptoms for heat related illness:
- High body temperature
- Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
- Fast, strong pulse
- Losing consciousness (passing out)
“It’s also important for people to take care of their skin,” said Dr. Baeseman. “Be sure to use a good, broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect against UVA and UVB rays.”
The sun protection factor (SPF) number refers to the length of time that product will protect your skin. A higher SPF doesn’t protect your skin any more than a lower number; it just protects it longer.
“People apply sunscreen and then think they are good for five or six hours, and that’s not true,” Dr. Baeseman said. “It’s important to reapply sunscreen often, about every two hours, especially when swimming or on the water boating, kayaking or canoeing.”
He also recommends wearing a wide-brimmed hat to help protect the face and ears, and don’t forget sunglasses that have UV protection. He also reminded people that the law requires boaters to have a life jacket on board for every passenger.
This year, many people might choose to celebrate the 4th of July with their own fireworks display.
“It’s important to use fireworks safely and legally,” said Dr. Baeseman. “Fireworks regulations are in place to protect us. Use fireworks as directed, be aware of where and how they’re being used and make sure that kids don’t have access to fireworks without adult supervision.”
People do lose fingers and hands and suffer burns from inappropriate use of fireworks, reminded Dr. Baeseman.
“Alcohol and fireworks don’t mix,” he stressed. “Don’t light explosives if you’ve been drinking, especially with kids around.”
Dr. Baeseman also highlighted ticks as a major concern during summer months.
“In our area, it is important to monitor for ticks,” he said. “It’s recommended that everyone wear DEET to protect themselves when outdoors, even in their yards, and then do a tick check soon after coming back inside.”
Also, don’t forget to check pets. Ticks often hitch a ride into our homes on cats, dogs and other pets. Check them for ticks when they come indoors and protect them from ticks as well.
As we mark the important holiday, Dr. Baeseman wants people to take time for themselves and their loved ones.
“This year has been difficult for nearly every single person,” he said. “While a holiday like the 4th of July seems to be a great time to celebrate with friends and family, we need to remember, COVID-19 has not gone away. We must take precautions to keep ourselves, our family and our community safe and healthy. Each person plays a role and we should take that responsibility seriously.”