Johnston-Willis Hospital - August 19, 2020

One of the troubling stories that’s been making the rounds about the coronavirus is related to so-called “COVID parties.” While the name itself is absurd—there’s nothing at all festive about COVID-19—it hasn’t stopped reports from circulating that young people are recklessly gathering to expose themselves to the coronavirus on purpose. Some reports suggest it’s “to get it over with,” others that it’s to help build herd immunity, and still others state that there’s a financial bet involved to see who “wins the pot” by getting the virus first.

Whether or not COVID-19 parties are really going on, here are the facts: Americans are getting together in large groups, many for activities that could be easily avoided. And just like COVID parties, they’re far from safe.

Large gatherings can lead to COVID-19—even for people who weren’t there

Around the country, large groups of people of all ages and all walks of life are gathering—by choice. This is going on despite the strong call by health officials and medical experts to maintain social distancing and heed their warnings about the very real health dangers of the virus.

Dozens of video clips show scenes from all over the U.S.: crowded beaches, packed bars, full churches, and even an entire small town chockablock with motorcycle enthusiasts. There’s no doubt that people are engaging in behaviors that put lives at risk for getting COVID-19—even the lives of people who weren’t at these gatherings in the first place.

That’s why social distancing is so essential.

Social distancing helps prevent COVID-19

Think of social distancing, also called “physical distancing,” as being in the same category as not texting and driving. It’s all about making a choice that will help you avoid harming yourself and others.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when infected people sneeze, cough or even talk, they produce droplets from their mouth or nose. These droplets fly into the air and land in the noses or mouths of people nearby. The lungs may also inhale the droplets. This is why COVID-19 spreads among people who are within about six feet of each other for an extended time.

Research shows that people infected with COVID-19 but who don’t have symptoms (also known as “asymptomatic”) also help spread the virus. Since people can spread COVID-19 before they even know they’re sick, it becomes even more vital to stay at least six feet away from others whenever you can and always wear a mask, especially when you’re not able to stay physically distant.

These large gatherings affect people who aren’t even there: It’s vital for people who have a higher risk for severe illness not to be exposed to the virus. Someone who attends a large gathering and then comes into contact with someone who’s high-risk, such as an elderly relative, could infect the person who may be helpless against the worst effects of COVID-19.

Tips for social distancing

Keep these tips in mind to practice social distancing when you’re in public spaces or large gatherings:

Know the guidance

Before you leave home, be sure you understand your local health authorities’ advice about social distancing in public spaces.

Postpone the party plans

It’s hard to cancel special events like weddings and birthday parties, but postponing means protection for everyone concerned. This is especially true for loved ones who may be at high-risk for the worst symptoms if they become ill with COVID-19. Also, keep in mind that in some areas, meetings with more than ten people aren’t allowed anyway.

Keep seniors safe

One of the groups that’s most at risk for complications from COVID-19 are older adults. It’s vital to limit their exposure to anyone who may be sick or could be asymptomatic. In this case, it’s best to reach out by phone or with a video chat—it’s a safe way to connect.

Follow road rules for safe transportation

Social distancing needs to play a part when you’re using public transit or riding in a vehicle with others. For instance, try to stay at least six feet away from other passengers on a bus. Avoid rideshares and taxis, or any mode of transportation where several passengers are picked up.

The best gatherings are outdoors

If you decide to go to a gathering, make sure it’s outdoors, where you can most easily stay at least six feet from people who aren’t from your household. If being outdoors won’t work, make sure the gathering space is well-ventilated. For instance, open a window. And always, always, wear a mask.

Stay six feet apart. Cover your face. Wash your hands. Repeat.

At this time, there isn’t one single way to protect against COVID-19. While it’s great if you’re trying to stay socially distant, that alone won’t provide all the protection you need against this relentless virus. Even if you’re talking with a neighbor and standing six feet apart, you’ll both be doing yourselves a favor by wearing masks while you do it. Add frequent handwashing to the mix, and you've got a triple layer of protection to help keep yourself and others safe.

Wear a mask

Wearing a face covering while you’re in a public setting is vital. It’s especially important when you’re around people who don’t live in your household, or you can’t easily maintain social distancing.

Skip the party and be better safe than sorry

Keep yourself and loved ones as far away from others as possible. Sure, it’s not as fun as going to a festival, bar, or beach, but it’s the best way to protect yourself and others from being infected with COVID-19. After all, people who look healthy can still have the virus and spread it.

No one wants to experience a few hours of fun and end up with a serious illness. By making social distancing a habit, you can look forward to better, healthier days ahead.