Millions of Americans are set to emerge from Coronavirus lockdowns and take tentative steps outdoors to celebrate Memorial Day weekend at beaches, cookouts and family gatherings, raising concern among public health officials that large gatherings could cause outbreaks to come roaring back.
Medical experts warn that the virus won’t take a holiday for the traditional start of summer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend that people stay home, avoid crowds and connect with family and friends by phone or video chat.
Dr. Seth Cohen, an infectious disease expert at the University of Washington Medical Center-Northwest in Seattle, advised that people who do celebrate keep their distance from one another, wear masks and avoid sharing food and drinks.
“Punch bowls. Nachos. These things are a no-no,” Cohen said.
The holiday weekend arrives amid the bleakest economy in decades. Tens of millions of people have been thrown out of work since the virus hit hard in March and forced businesses, including many popular summer destinations, to shut down at least temporarily. Unemployment has reached its highest level since the Great Depression, and on Thursday, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell warned that prospects for a recovery will remain unclear until the health crisis is solved.
Many long-running Memorial Day commemorations of the nation’s fallen military heroes have been canceled or downsized, including concerts and fireworks shows. Parks, beaches, campgrounds and swimming pools remain closed in much of the country.
But plenty of popular public spaces will be open — with restrictions.
In Virginia Beach, Virginia, the famed 40-block boardwalk and sandy shoreline is open beginning Friday, but people must stay six feet from non-family members, with groups limited to 10 or fewer. Group sports such as volleyball will be prohibited, along with tents and alcohol consumption.
Mayor Bobby Dyer said about 150 “beach ambassadors” in red shirts will be deployed to “diplomatically” ask people to follow the rules.
In the absence of clear federal guidance, it’s largely been left to state and local officials to figure out how to celebrate the holiday safely. Social-distancing rules and bans on mass gatherings remain in place throughout much of the country.
Keeping holidays safe is a quandary is faced by authorities around the globe. On the same weekend as Memorial Day, the Muslim world will mark the fast-breaking festival Eid al-Fitr. On Monday, U.K. residents get a bank holiday.