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Column: Staying safe on a very different Fourth of July

  • Celebrating the Fourth of July this year means being extra careful around fireworks, and also taking common-sense steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Dreamstime/TNS)

For the Valley News
Published: 7/3/2020 10:10:23 PM
Modified: 7/3/2020 10:10:11 PM

This Independence Day is very different. Large gatherings, including parades and fireworks displays, are not taking place because of COVID-19. As plans shift to smaller events in backyards and neighborhoods, I can’t help putting my 30-plus years of public safety and health care experience to work to help prevent injuries and the spread of illness by offering these perspectives about this unique Fourth of July.

Connecticut River Valley residents need to take charge of their own injury prevention as our holiday celebrations move closer to home. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, in the month around July 4, an average of 180 people throughout the country go to emergency rooms every day with fireworks-related injuries. As a paramedic, I have seen fireworks injuries up close. These injuries are painful — and largely preventable. Alternatives to traditional fireworks include glow sticks, red, white and blue “silly” string, and holding an outdoor movie night in the backyard.

If you choose to use fireworks, here are some basic safety strategies:

■ When possible, leave fireworks to the professionals. Obviously, not every neighborhood has a fireworks technician. Still, seek out knowledge and experience.

■ Before lighting the fuse, call the local fire department and learn what fireworks are permissible in your town or city.

■ Keep your distance from each other, and from ignited fireworks.

■ Dispose properly of all unused fireworks, those that failed to ignite and the remnants of those that did.

■ More than 19,500 fires were ignited in 2018 by improperly used fireworks, according to National Fire Protection Association, so keep a bucket of water and a garden hose nearby.

■ Remember your neighbors. Being a good neighbor on every holiday is essential, but especially on July 4, we should all consider the impact that jarring noises created by fireworks can cause. For veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome, fireworks can be a triggering event that forces them to relive the most painful experiences of their lives.

Don’t let your guard down

It is not just injuries we are working to prevent this year, it is also the spread of a dangerous disease. Follow the “Guiding Principles” of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for events both indoors and out, large and small. The more people who attend, the longer we interact, and the physical proximity of those in attendance all matter when preventing the spread of the new coronavirus.

Just because we are with family and friends, this is no time for a false sense of security. This is the time to continue common-sense practices, including:

■ Wash your hands. Food and friends go well together, but the lack of proper hand hygiene is a known contributor to spreading illness, including COVID-19. We can all take this simple, important step.

■ Bring your own food, beverages and supplies. I love potluck meals, but this is not the year for them. Sharing food and drinks increases handling and hand contact among individuals. This is a good time to keep our hands to ourselves.

■ Wear your mask. This is your personal protective strategy, since COVID-19 is an airborne illness. Illness does not choose which party to go to. You do.

■ Keep your distance. Maintaining a safe space between you and others is one of your best defenses. Six feet is the space recommended by the CDC.

■ Check your own temperature regularly, and don’t be afraid to ask others to do so before they enter a shared space. Ask guests if they have traveled to an area with high incidence of COVID-19.

Common sense and consistent practices are the best tools we have to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

What the future holds

Looking ahead to July 4, 2021: We may not know what to expect at this point, but we do know what steps we need to take.

■ We need to continue to make testing for COVID-19 widely available.

■ We need to expand the number of contact-tracers to isolate hot spots and keep the virus from spreading.

■ We need to strengthen and prepare our state’s 13 public health networks to be community leaders when operating points of distribution once a vaccine is available.

When I was working at New Hampshire’s Bureau of Emergency Medical Services, I led a partnership with the public health community to develop training and protocols that enabled paramedics to join the team of those who could administer flu vaccinations. This supported the rapid, widespread deployment of flu vaccine, starting with management of the H1N1 virus. In some areas, school nurses and paramedics teamed up to deliver flu vaccinations, leveraging the infrastructure, protocols and training in place. We can use the same approach when the time comes to vaccinate against COVID-19. Now is the time — while the vaccine is being developed — for state leaders to strengthen our public health infrastructure.

And when the time comes, I’ll be first in line for a hug!

Sue Prentiss, of Lebanon, is a paramedic and executive director of the American Trauma Society. She was the first woman to serve as bureau chief for emergency medical services in the New Hampshire Department of Safety.

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