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Fourth of July during the COVID-19 pandemic: Vanderbilt University Medical Center doctors urge safe celebrations

Oh, beautiful for spacious distancing, with ample space between

by July 1, 2020

Canceled Fourth of July Fireworks Shows and the COVID-19 pandemic don’t have to spoil your holiday plans.  Vanderbilt University Medical Center doctors say there is still a safe way to celebrate.

“We all need to plan this holiday with COVID-19 prevention in mind, which means considering the size of the gathering, the ability to maintain social distancing, frequent hand-washing / hand sanitizing, and ensuring cloth face coverings or masks are worn,” said Lori Rolando, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Clinical Medicine and director of the Occupational Health Clinic at VUMC.

COVID-19 cases in Nashville are trending up, and doctors urge everyone to carry a mask and use it, especially when unable to maintain social distance, no matter if you are indoors or outside when around those who don’t live in the same household.

“An important thing to remember is that the cloth masks protect others and minimize the exposure of droplets that a person with the COVID-19 infection might otherwise spread more broadly,” said Rolando. “So, by ensuring that everyone is wearing a mask, and keeping 6 feet apart, we really are doing our part as a community to protect each other and slow the spread of COVID-19.”

“Explosive injuries to the hands and fingers are the most common fireworks-related injuries, but we treat injuries to the eyes, ears and face when firework debris causes damage.”

Keeping a safe distance from others is also important when lighting consumer fireworks.

For weeks, local fireworks stands have sold a variety of large and small explosives for those who still want to experience fun on the Fourth of July.  But those fireworks can cause serious injuries.

“Explosive injuries to the hands and fingers are the most common fireworks-related injuries, but we treat injuries to the eyes, ears and face when firework debris causes damage,” said Corey Slovis, MD, professor of Emergency Medicine.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports on average, 243 people go the emergency room every day with fireworks-related injuries in the weeks surrounding the Fourth of July holiday.  Those 25 to 44 years of age make up 34% of firework injuries, while children ages 0 to 4 account for 14% percent, the second highest percentage of injuries.

In 2018, the CPSC estimated 9,100 fireworks-related injuries in emergency departments and reported at least five fireworks-related deaths in the U.S.

“Picking up an unexploded device which ‘hasn’t gone off’ is very dangerous as sometimes it takes longer than expected,” Slovis said. “Be aware that some fireworks are more powerful than you might think.”

Firecrackers and M-80s cause the most traumatic injuries.  And while most feel sparklers are a safer alternative to celebrate the July Fourth holiday, keep in mind they burn at approximately 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which can cause third-degree burns.

Remember, if you plan to use fireworks during your holiday celebration, keep the following precautions in mind and set some rules in advance.

Tips for a safe holiday during the pandemic:

  • Consider your level of risk for venturing into public settings.
  • If traveling, learn about COVID-19 infection rates and any requirements where you are going.
  • Limit the size of gatherings to 25 people or fewer.
  • Maintain physical distance, at least 6 feet apart.
  • Wear a cloth mask to cover nose and mouth (if over age 2).
  • Stay at home and isolate if you have COVID-19 symptoms such as coughing, fever, shortness of breath, headache/muscle aches, fever / chills, diarrhea, sore throat, loss of sense of taste / smell.
  • Individuals over 65 or with chronic medical conditions that put them at increased risk would be safest at home should avoiding gatherings.
  • Make a list of friends and family you have been around in case follow up contact tracing is needed.
  • Always read and follow all fireworks warnings and label instructions.
  • Never allow children to play with or light fireworks.
  • The adult lighting the fireworks should always wear safety goggles. No one should ever have any part of their body over the fireworks.
  • Keep a working garden hose, bucket of water and fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Light fireworks on a smooth, flat surface away from other people, the house, and dry leaves and other flammable materials.
  • Light only one firework at a time.
  • Never shoot fireworks in metal or glass containers.
  • Never relight a dud firework. Douse and soak them with water and throw them away.
  • Dispose of fireworks by soaking them in water and then putting them in the trash can.

*Source: Consumer Product Safety Commission and Metro Nashville government’s Roadmap for Reopening Nashville –

Photo by iStock

COVID-19, coronavirus, Corey Slovis, Safety, fireworks, Summer, Lori Rolando