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Is it safe to go watch fireworks during a pandemic? Here's what you need to know.

Paulette Parker
Michigan Radio

Fourth of July is going to look a little different this year.

A number of fireworks events have been canceled due to COVID-19, including in Grand Rapids, Flint, Saginaw, and Traverse City. Detroit’s Fourth of July fireworks have been moved to August. And the annual fireworks over Lake Michigan in South Haven were actually canceled in early March due to concerns over high water levels.

However, some official events are going forward, including on Mackinac Island and Frankenmuth, where officials promise the fireworks will be a “smaller, shorter display, but exciting nonetheless!”

No matter how many official events there are, that’s not stopping the lake associations and neighborhoods from holding smaller events across the state.

But is it safe to go watch fireworks in the middle of a pandemic?

Ryan Malosh is an assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

He cautions, “Attending any gathering of people is going to increase your risk of coronavirus.”

But say you’re willing to take the risk and go to a public fireworks display. First, Malosh says, you should also consider your health, and the health of your close acquaintances. Anyone in a high-risk category should avoid crowds of any size.

But if you’re a healthy person, the next thing to consider is the size of the crowd.

“If you’re watching from the front yard of your lake house,” says Malosh, “that’s a much different thing than if you’re watching from the baseball diamond in your local community and everyone is watching from that same spot.”

Malosh says you might be able to social distance at a large event like that, so it’s not as risky as say, heading to a crowded bar.

“If you’re able to stay far away from other people that you’re not going to be in close contact with, then there’s nothing inherently risky about that.”

But that doesn’t mean you should head to the first beach you see and settle in for the show. There’s a lot you can’t control when you’re surrounded by other people.

“When you’re in a large crowd, you’re more likely to come into close contact with people, even if most of the time you’re able to stay far apart,” explains Malosh. “You know, you’re waiting in line for the port-a-potty or coming into or out of whatever venue you’re at. There’s going to be some congregation of people, and those are the areas that you’re gonna want to try to avoid.”

State officials are strongly advising Michiganders avoid firework displays this weekend.

“We urge Michiganders to avoid crowds as COVID-19 is still circulating in Michigan, the United States and the world. If they are going to attend events, even outdoor events, they should maintain social distancing, wear masks and wash their hands often,” says MDHHS spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin.

If you do choose to attend a fireworks show, there are some precautions you can take to lessen the risk somewhat.

“Try to stagger your arrival so you’re not showing up at the same time as everyone else. Have a mask with you, so if you do find yourself in close proximity with people, you can put that on and protect yourself that way,” says Malosh.

And keep an eye on the kids: just because they’re not as likely to get severe disease, doesn’t mean they get to ignore the rules.

“[Kids are] definitely still involved in transmission chains, and they’re definitely still susceptible to infection even if they don’t get severe disease. I don’t think that’s something that you’d want to relax the rules for kids.”

As for other holiday events, the best rule of thumb is to avoid being in close contact with people.

Indoor restaurants, bars, and parties are the biggest risk. Large gatherings, even if it’s with people you know, carry the same risk as being in a large group of strangers.

Plus, Malosh adds, the weather is meant to be beautiful this weekend.

“Why would you want to be inside, anyway?”

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Emma is a communications specialist with the digital team at Michigan Radio. She works across all departments at Michigan Radio, with a hand in everything from digital marketing and fundraising to graphic design and website maintenance. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.
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