Written by SMH Digital Communications Specialist Ann Key
Like most birthday parties these days, the United States' 244th birthday celebration is likely to be a more toned-down affair than Independence Days of years past.
As many choose backyard sparklers over public fireworks events this year, and small get-togethers are favored over large gatherings or crowded beaches, Independence Day will certainly be different amid the evolving COVID-19 pandemic.
No matter what your Fourth of July plans may be, it’s doubtful a trip to the emergency room is on the agenda. Use the tips below to avoid preventable injuries — and the ER — this holiday. And please, do your part to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community.
As Sarasota County’s COVID-19 positivity rate continues to inch up, we encourage everyone to celebrate our nation’s birthday responsibly.
- Stay home, or limit your social circle: Avoid large gatherings. Keep backyard cookouts, pool parties or other get-togethers small. Follow physical distancing guidelines (6 feet).
- Wear a mask: The City of Sarasota recently mandated mask-wearing in public places. Mask up indoors, in public places, and outdoor areas where physical distancing isn’t possible when you may be around people from outside your household. Yes, mask-wearing can be inconvenient and uncomfortable — especially in the summer heat — but until we have a vaccine or a cure for COVID-19, the best tools we have to combat the virus’ spread are wearing a mask and keeping a safe physical distance (6 feet from others) in public.
- Celebrate outdoors, rather than indoors, if you plan to be around people other than those you live with. Check out events that are set up for physical distancing (like drive-up fireworks in Sarasota or North Port), or have a watch party to catch the grand finale on TV this year.
- Not feeling well? Stay home.
Scaling back on the size of your celebration doesn’t mean you need to scale back on the fun! Get creative! Google and Pinterest can help with ideas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also offers some good ideas for ways to stay safe and healthy this summer; click here to read the CDC blog.
What better way to celebrate patriotism and the birth of our nation — when divided states united as one country — than by showing your neighbors you care enough about their health and safety to wear a mask and act responsibly?
Sparkle with Caution
In Sarasota County, fireworks (including bottle rockets, roman candles, firecrackers, etc.) are prohibited without a permit. Basically, anything firework that leaves the ground is prohibited.
Consumer fireworks also pose many potential safety risks. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, tens of thousands of people are badly injured each year (some fatally) in fireworks-related incidents.
Did you know that handheld sparklers — every young child’s favorite on July 4th— are the cause of about 25% of hospital ER visits for fireworks-related injuries? That’s more than any other single type of fireworks.
“Each year, children are seriously burned when they pick up or accidentally step on a still-hot sparkler,” explained Sarasota Memorial Trauma Program Coordinator Leeann Putney. “Sparklers burn at a shocking 2,000 degrees, and can quickly ignite clothing and cause severe burns if they’re dropped on bare feet.”
If sparklers will be part of your holiday fun (they are allowed in Sarasota County), ensure everyone wears closed-toed shoes to protect their feet; ignite only one sparkler at a time; and put spent sparklers in a bucket of water or sand, Putney advised.
Firing up the barbecue? Be sure to establish a safe cooking zone, well away from the house, deck railings and overhanging trees.
- Never leave a grill unattended, and always keep children at least 3 feet away from the cooking area.
- Be sure your grill is clean before using it.
“We DO NOT recommend using metal-bristle brushes for grill cleaning,” Putney cautioned. “Metal grill brushes shed bristles that have been known to get lodged in diners’ throats when they are consumed in grilled food.”
- For propane grills, check the gas hose for leaks seasonally. Apply a light soap-and-water solution to the hose, then turn on the gas. If the solution bubbles, you have a gas leak. Other signs of a leak include the smell of gas near the grill or a flame that won’t light.
“If you’re using a propane grill and the flame goes out, turn off the grill and the gas, then wait at least 5 minutes before re-lighting it,” Putney said.
Safety at Sea
If you’re planning to physically distance afloat, know the “rules of the road” — and life jacket laws — before you cast off.
- In Florida, boats are required to have one U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person aboard; passengers younger than 6 MUST wear a life jacket when the boat is underway. Anyone aboard a personal watercraft (PWC) or who is being towed behind a boat is required to wear a life jacket at all times.
Proper fit is key when choosing a life jacket, especially for an infant or child. Better fit means more comfort and protection; a poor-fitting life jacket can actually increase drowning risk. We recommend testing life jacket fit for kids in a bathtub or pool before you rely on it to save their life.
- It’s illegal to operate a boat or PWC while under the influence of alcohol. Make sure you have a designated driver.
“Injury risk increases whenever alcohol is involved,” Putney said. “Even if you’re just a passenger.”
Happy 4th of July
As always, we wish you all a safe, happy and healthy holiday. And remember, we’re here (and here), if you need us.
As the digital communications specialist, Ann Key manages Sarasota Memorial's Healthe-Matters blog and newsletter, as well as other content and social media channels.