Although it’s safer to gather outside than indoors, the virus can still be transmitted in outdoor spaces when people gather in large groups or stand close to one another for long periods of time. Alcohol can loosen inhibitions, prompting people to forget about social distancing. Loud music can prompt people to stand closer and speak louder, which can spew more viral particles and put you at risk even if you’re wearing a mask, health experts say.
Dr. Murray said that whatever plan you have for the holiday weekend, ask yourself how you can make it safer for everyone.
“People need to socialize and to see people who are important to them,” Dr. Murray said. “If you were thinking of being indoors, go outdoors. If you were thinking about being outdoors, spread out further; wear masks. Think about what you can do to move down the risk continuum.”
While many people feel safer socializing with family members, a number of outbreaks have been traced back to family parties that included relatives from more than one household. In Maryland, 44 percent of the state’s new cases were traced back to family gatherings, compared with 23 percent from house parties and 21 percent to outdoor events, according to a tweet posted by Gov. Larry Hogan.
After a family gathering of two dozen people in Catawba County, N.C., 14 people who attended became ill, but it didn’t end there. “Before they started to show symptoms, they continued with their daily lives, such as going to work or taking a beach trip with other families,” Jennifer McCracken, Catawba County’s public health director, wrote in a case study of the event. “This set into motion a person-to-person contact chain that to date has spread COVID-19 to 41 people in nine different families and eight different workplaces.”
Gregg Gonsalves, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, said the holiday weekend would multiply the number of family gatherings around the country.
“A family gathering one weekend in August that sets off cases in a given county or town is one thing,” Dr. Gonsalves said. “One hundred family gatherings in that county on Labor Day weekend makes it a much larger epidemiological impact.”
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