Labor Day Could Become Coronavirus Superspreader as Millions Prepare to Travel

As millions of people are expected to travel over the upcoming Labor Day weekend, health experts have warned celebrations could cause coronavirus superspreading events and hamper efforts to control the U.S. outbreak as we head into the fall.

According to the itinerary website TripIt, travel bookings are down by a third this year on the last amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but millions are still due to make tracks this weekend, ABC News reported.

After spikes in cases were reported in some parts of the country after Memorial Day and Independence Day, officials are worried Labor Day gatherings will worsen the outbreak which has already killed over 180,000 people and caused over 6.1 million infections in the U.S., according to John Hopkins University.

After cases surged in July and August, reaching 70,000 diagnoses per day at one point, the figure has dropped to around 40,000 in recent days weeks. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said in an interview on with MSNBC Wednesday that this number was still "unacceptably high" as fall approaches, and hoped to see infections at 10,000 per day or lower.

On Wednesday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield told Yahoo Finance: "We don't want it [Labor Day] to become a spreading event" and asked people to be "smart about crowds."

He said: "If we have a spreading event right now, with Labor Day, three to four weeks later we're going to have that surge of new cases, and it's going to be really complicated." Redfield said: "This could be one of the most difficult public health winters we've ever had, with the convergence of flu and COVID."

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In an interview with Bloomberg published Thursday, Fauci said seven Midwest states are at particular risk of rising cases: North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana, and Illinois.

"If we're careless about it, then we could wind up with a surge following Labor Day," Fauci said. "It really depends on how we behave as a country."

Experts were similarly apprehensive in interviews with Newsweek, expressing concern the progress made over the past few weeks may be jeopardized.

Dr. Ravina Kullar, a spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America and an infectious diseases specialist and epidemiologist based in Los Angeles, told Newsweek: "I am highly concerned we will see a spike in cases and may forfeit all the headway we have made in some parts of the U.S."

Dr. Manisha Juthani, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Yale School of Medicine, told Newsweek: "Labor Day marks the beginning of fall. The days are getting shorter, people are preparing for more time indoors and colder weather. One highly infectious person at a crowded gathering can result in the virus spreading like wildfire."

Superspreading events associated with Independence Day in the U.S. could be seen again "if we aren't careful," said Andrew Brouwer, assistant research scientist in the department of epidemiology at the University of Michigan.

If there is a rise in cases, this would then be followed by an uptick in the number of deaths, Dr. Sabrina A. Assoumou, assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine told Newsweek. "We also worry about overwhelming our health care facilities as we approach influenza season," she said.

The academics advised people to follow commonly known safety guidance, such as avoiding crowded areas, even when outdoors; staying 6 ft away from individuals outside one's household or quaranteam; wearing masks when social distancing isn't possible; and washing hands. It is also important not to share food, drink or utensils with those outside one's household or quaranteam.

"Take time to mark the end of summer with small, outdoor gatherings. Remind people who don't feel well, even if their symptom is just fatigue, to just stay home," said Juthani.

Brouwer said it is also important to remember that people without symptoms may be able to spread the virus and that wearing a mask is as much about protecting others from you than it is about protecting you from others.

As Labor Day is often marked with cookouts, the likelihood of people socializing without wearing masks rises as we gather and eat. Dr. Andrew Chuang, an internal medicine physician in the Cedars-Sinai Medical Network in Marina del Rey, said in a statement: "That means you should be even more careful. If you are eating with others, sit with members of your own household and farther away from those not in your household.

"I know that takes away some of the social interaction we crave, but try to remember that this situation is temporary. The pandemic won't last forever."

If you and others you are unable to do any of those important preventative strategies, if you develop symptoms, or if you've been exposed to an individual who has been confirmed or is suspected of having COVID-19, alert your household or quaranteam, Amira A Roess, professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University told Newsweek.

The message from the experts was clear: don't let your guard down over Labor Day weekend.

cookout, bbq, stock, getty
A stock image shows a group of friends at a cookout. Experts fear Labor Day celebrations may lead to coronavirus superpsreading events Getty
Labor Day Could Become Coronavirus Superspreader as Millions Prepare to Travel | Health