Are you part of the problem? COVID-19 spike linked to small gatherings
Inviting Mom and Dad inside for a pizza. An outdoor party while the weather's still bearable. Finally hosting a memorial for a loved one who passed away months ago. A kid's sleepover at a friend's house.
All of these seemingly innocent acts, when not handled properly, seem to be contributing to an uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the Garden State, according to state leaders and medical professionals.
They understand it's not easy for the public to be so alert for so long, but that's what they need in order to fight back a second wave in the coronavirus pandemic.
"It does seem as though there's many community exposures that are happening right now as people really are starting to get fatigued from all of the different pandemic safety measures," said Gemma Downham, director of Infection Prevention for Atlanticare Regional Medical Center.
New Jersey currently permits general indoor gatherings of 25 people or 25% of a venue's capacity — whichever number is lower. But COVID-19 safety guidelines are still urged for these small gatherings and it's believed that message isn't getting across.
"Nobody wants to contract COVID, nobody wants to transmit COVID," Downham said. "Any type of prolonged indoor exposure can put people at risk, especially if you're with others not from your household and others that are presenting from communities where there's high rates of COVID transmission."
The state Department of Health offers the following tips for in-person gatherings:
- Indoor gatherings pose more risk than outdoor gatherings. Host outdoor activities rather than indoor activities as much as possible.
- Ask guests to wear face coverings when they cannot social distance.
- Make hand sanitizer available for guests.
- Gatherings that last longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings.
- Gatherings with more people pose more risk than gatherings with fewer people. Limit numbers of attendees as much as possible.
- When hosting activities, do so with people only from your local area as much as possible. Activities with attendees traveling from different locations increase the risk of infection and spread, especially if they are coming from or traveling to a location with higher levels of COVID-19 cases and community spread.
- Remind invited guests to stay home if they have been exposed to the virus in the last 14 days, are showing COVID-19 symptoms, or recently travelled to an area or a state with high COVID-19 infection rates.
- Limit the number of people handling or serving food — for example, consider identifying one person to serve all food so that multiple people are not handling the serving utensils.
- Remind guests to wash their hands before serving or eating food.
- Use single-use hand towels or paper towels for drying hands so guests do not share a towel.
- Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and any shared items between use when feasible.
- Consider keeping a list of guests who attended for potential future contract tracing needs. If you are called by a contact tracer, it's critical that you answer the call to protect us all. Your help is the key to stopping the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives.
"It's always best to move these things outdoors if possible," Downham added.
Even then, avoid kissing and hugging, she said. Guests can still practice social distancing and hygiene measures.
Downham said individuals itching for family interaction at the holidays may have to get creative.
"Hopefully we have a mild Thanksgiving ... where you can set up tables in a yard," she said.
Gov. Phil Murphy in October advised New Jerseyans against inviting out-of-state residents here for Thanksgiving, or visiting another state for the holiday. More recently, the governor said many of the state's new COVID-19 cases are linked to small gatherings in private homes, "where folks are most apt to let their guard down."
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.