How Your Labor Day Blast Could Make Pandemic Life Worse in the Fall

After past holiday weekends caused spikes in Covid-19 cases, public health officials are urging people to keep gatherings small, outdoors and masked.

By Tara Parker-Pope

For many Americans, Labor Day is a goodbye to summer before children go back to school and cold weather arrives. But public health experts are worried that in the midst of a pandemic, the traditional last blast of summer could translate into disaster this fall.

After the Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends, cases of Covid-19 surged around the country after people held family gatherings or congregated in large groups. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, said he wanted people to enjoy Labor Day weekend but urged them to take precautions to avoid a post-holiday spike in cases: Take the fun outdoors; avoid crowds, and keep gatherings to 10 people or fewer; and even outdoors, where transmission risk is much lower, you still need to wear a mask and practice physical distancing if you’re spending time with people outside your household.

“We’ve been through this before,” Dr. Fauci said. “We see what happens over holiday weekends, and we want to make sure we don’t have an uptick. What I have been saying is kind of a plea to the American public, and to the younger people, that they can enjoy themselves over Labor Day weekend, but please be aware of and adhere to public health guidelines.”

In terms of daily case counts, the United States over all is in worse shape going into Labor Day weekend than it was for Memorial Day weekend. The nation is now averaging about 40,000 new confirmed cases per day, up from about 22,000 per day ahead of Memorial Day weekend. Dr. Fauci said that the number of daily cases in the United States was “unacceptably high” and that a spike in Covid-19 infections following Labor Day would make it far tougher to control the spread of the disease in the fall as people head indoors.

“We’d like to get a good head start into the fall by getting our daily cases and our test positivity as low as possible,” Dr. Fauci said. “If we get another resurgence of infections after Labor Day, it will make it that much more difficult to get that baseline down and make it much more problematic as we enter the fall season.”

Public health experts said it might be even more challenging to persuade people to curtail their Labor Day weekend plans, compared to past holiday weekends, because so many people are suffering from pandemic fatigue after six months of social distancing restrictions, closures and separation from loved ones.

“People are getting tired of taking these precautions and of having their lives upended,” said Eleanor J. Murray, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health. “They’re missing their friends and family, and everyone wishes things were back to normal. That’s totally understandable, but unfortunately we don’t get a say, really.”

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