HARTFORD, Conn. – Stir-crazy in some cases after the dreary Summer of COVID-19, Americans headed into the Labor Day weekend amid warnings from public health officials not to make the same mistakes they did over Memorial Day and July Fourth.
The fear is that parties, crowded bars and other gatherings will cause the coronavirus to come surging back
“I look upon the Labor Day weekend really as a critical point,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious-disease expert. “Are we going to go in the right direction and continue the momentum downward, or are we going to have to step back a bit as we start another surge?”
The warnings came as a widely cited model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington projected a worsening outbreak in the U.S. that will peak in early December at about 2,900 deaths per day, up from about 860 a day now, unless government officials take action.
Over the summer, the U.S. saw a rise in infections, deaths and hospitalizations, primarily in the South and West, that was blamed in part on Americans behaving heedlessly over Memorial Day and July Fourth.
The landscape has improved in recent weeks, with the numbers headed in the right direction in hard-hit states like Florida, Arizona and Texas, but there are certain risk factors that could combine with Labor Day: Children are going back to school, university campuses are seeing soaring case counts, college football is starting, more businesses are open, and flu season is around the corner.
And a few states are heading into the holiday with less room in hospitals than they had over Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Alabama, for example, had about 800 people hospitalized with the virus on July 1. This week, it has just under 1,000.
More beaches will be open on Labor Day than on Memorial Day, but Fauci said that is not cause in itself for concern, as long as people keep their distance.
“I would rather see someone on a beach, being physically separated enough, than someone crowded in an indoor bar,” he said.
Americans appeared more than ready to venture out and socialize – though with some precautions.
In Cicero, Indiana, 40-year-old Matt McInnis planned to continue with tradition by getting together with about 15 neighborhood friends for a barbecue. And forget wearing masks.
“With the picnic being outdoors, we feel that we can space enough, and with the fresh air that we are going to be safe with it being outdoors and in the wide open,” McInnis said. He said they won't be asking the eight children at the picnic to socially distance either.