TAMPA, Fla. - Every year, officials warn of the dangers posed by fireworks and celebratory gunfire on Independence Day, but this year's celebrations present a new threat: COVID-19.
This Saturday, July 4, large crowds and family gatherings are expected at the beach and around neighborhoods, but doctors say wearing a mask, or skipping the group celebrations altogether, could save the health -- and even life -- of you and your loved ones.
Most big fireworks displays and events have been called off to discourage crowds that could result in more COVID-19 infections.
“If we don’t begin to extinguish this outbreak sooner than later, even those parts of our community that have been less impacted, will be,” said Dr. Douglas Holt with the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County.
Some experts think the current surge in coronavirus cases is linked to gatherings back on Memorial Day.
Fourth of July revelers are being warned to stay away from big parties this weekend.
“It’s really typically family get-togethers and big cookouts and lots of people you haven’t seen in a while hugging, all that stuff,” said Seminole County Medical Director Dr. Todd Husty. “And you really don’t know who in your family is good and who's not.”
Some South Florida beaches are planning to shut down this weekend. However, Pinellas County leaders decided Tuesday to keep the shoreline open for the holiday.
“Where does personal responsibility come in? When do we stop holding everybody's hand?” questioned Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “It’s either they're going to do it or they're not at this point."
Everyone is urged to limit contact with people outside of their own household, maintain social distance, and wear masks when staying six-feet away from others is not possible.
Experts say the safest way to celebrate is to spend Independence Day at home.
“Your better option would be to stay in your backyard, you know, enjoy time out at your own grill, you can cook your own food there exactly the way you want it,” Tom Iovino with the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County said. “And that way you can stay safe while you’re still enjoying the outdoors.”