Independence Day is the peak of an American summer: social gatherings, barbecues, and fireworks.
The outdoors is one of the safest places to be, as long as social distancing and masking guidelines are followed.
A few tips to help you and your family stay healthy this Fourth of July:
Avoid a Fireworks Fiasco
Fireworks were involved in an estimated 10,000 injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments in 2019, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. More than 70% of those injuries were treated between June 21 and July 21 and nearly half were to people younger than 20 years old.
The safest way to enjoy fireworks is at displays conducted by professionals, according to the National Safety Council. If you’re attending a fireworks show this year, avoid crowds and adhere to social distancing standards.
Since many displays in the area have been canceled because of COVID-19, some may try fireworks at home, which puts them at risk for injuries. Dr. Alex Sarenac, director of Atlantic AdvancED Urgent Care in Mountain Lakes, says he’s anticipating an increase in the number of people seeking care for injuries related to fireworks.
Even sparklers, which many assume are harmless, burn at 2,000 degrees and can cause severe burns. Consider safer alternatives like glow sticks, confetti poppers or colored streamers.
The National Safety Council says some fireworks may be legal, but they’re not safe. The organization offers the following safety tips if you choose to use consumer fireworks:
- Don’t allow young children to handle fireworks. Older children should be closely supervised by an adult.
- Never use fireworks while impaired by drugs or alcohol
- Use protective eyewear and light fireworks outside, away from people, houses and flammable materials.
- Don’t hold fireworks, throw or point them at others.
- Only light one device at a time and maintain safe distance after lighting.
- Never ignite devices in a container.
- Don’t try to re-light or handle fireworks that aren’t working.
- Keep a bucket of water nearby in case of fire and use it to soak spent and unused fireworks for several hours before discarding.
- Never use illegal fireworks.
Dr. Sarenac, who is a board-certified emergency medicine physician, said most of the fireworks-related injuries he sees are burns and injuries to hands and fingers.
If someone does get hurt with fireworks, he said the best thing to do is cool the injury down with cold water, cover it with a bandage and go to the hospital or an urgent care facility. Call 9-1-1 for severe injuries
As people spend more time outdoors on other activities – like biking and skateboarding – protective gear can help prevent serious injury.
Dr. Sarenac has seen increased patient visits for injuries, including broken bones or injuries to a person’s arms, legs or face, from falls while involved in a variety of activities. Riding bikes is one of the major ones, he said.
Bike helmets are required by state law for children under 17 years old, and they’re important safety tools for any age.
“Wear a helmet anytime that (you) are doing any type of activity involving potential for falls and riding anything with wheels,” Sarenac said. “In the event of a fall, a helmet will help prevent any lacerations that need to be repaired, skull fractures and damage to the brain,” he said.
He also recommends appropriate lights and reflectors for rides that might stretch into the evening, and wrist and shin guards – particularly while skateboarding or rollerblading.
Drownings are a leading cause of injury death for children ages 1 to 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Assign a lifeguard or someone who can watch the pool, especially if you have little children,” Dr. Sarenac said, “and make sure that anyone who can’t swim also has a life jacket.”
Dr. Walter Rosenfeld, the chair of pediatrics at Goryeb Children’s Hospital and the medical director of Children’s Health for Atlantic Health System, said in a recent live discussion on Facebook that the COVID-19 risk in a pool is probably not the water at all, it’s forgetting social distancing and getting too close.
Beat the Heat
“Wear a wide-brimmed hat, loose-fitting clothing and sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) to protect yourself from the sun,” Dr. Sarenac said, adding that it’s important to stay well hydrated and use shade whenever possible. “The best way to cool yourself down is by using a cool mist.” Dr. Sarenac said he sees injuries related to dehydration, heat exhaustion and sunburn in the summer.
Beware of Bugs
Protect yourself and your family from bugs, including ticks and mosquitoes, which can carry diseases like Lyme disease and West Nile virus. “If you’re going into a wooded area, make sure that all of your exposed skin is covered with clothes,” Dr. Sarenac advised.
You should also wear mosquito repellant and remove ticks as quickly as possible if you see them on the body. He said that any rashes that develop after a tick bite should be evaluated by a doctor.
Avoid talking about COVID-19 and consuming media about it for a while. It’s important to stay informed, but the information can be overwhelming. “It’s always good to take a break from media and make sure you’re doing activities that bring you joy,” Dr. Sarenac said.
Look for ways to gradually return to some of the activities you’ve missed during the pandemic, while still following safety guidelines. In a recent live discussion on Facebook, Dr. Peter Bolo, chairman of Overlook Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, said connecting with other people is a critical part of managing anxiety. You could stay socially distanced while hiking with a friend, for example, or have a small bring-your-own-food picnic outside.
Slow the Spread of COVID-19
As you make plans for the holiday weekend and summer beyond, take precautions to reduce your chances of getting sick and to protect others.
- Stay home if you’re sick
- Wear a facemask
- Wash your hands often
- Avoid close contact and social distance six feet apart
New questions arise as the state reopens and every person examines if it’s possible to safely return to activities they enjoy. Read what the CDC has to say about some things you might be considering:
Make this Honey Orange Barbecue Chicken for Your Holiday Feast
And remember to prevent food poisoning …
If you’re having a picnic or barbecue this Fourth of July, and throughout the summer months, don’t leave food at room temperature for longer than two hours (one hour if it’s over 90 degrees outside) and keep perishable food cold.