Health experts: Don't let your guard down this July 4th weekend, COVID-19 remains a significant health risk

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The July 4th weekend has arrived. For many, there may be some temptation to let down their guard and gather for the holiday.

It'll be an Independence Day like no other, as COVID-19 cases continue to climb across parts of the state.

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ABC7 News connected with Dr. John Swartzberg, Clinical Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley School of Public Heath, Division of Infectious Diseases.

"There's no easy way out of this," Dr. Swartzberg explained. "There's no way to just wish our way out of it. There's no way to get together in big crowds of people and think we're not going to get infected."

The strong warning about letting your guard down this holiday weekend- don't.

ABC7 News has heard and repeated the recommendations: Wear a face covering, stay six feet apart, and avoid large gatherings.

However, that messaging means nothing without action.

The guidance was echoed by Dr. Dean Winslow, an Infectious Disease Doctor with Stanford Health Care.

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"The idea is that we cannot completely eliminate risks," he told ABC7 News. "But there are some pretty easy, common sense things which are evidence based, which we can use to at least remarkably reduce the risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2."

Additional actions include staying outdoors, keeping soap, water and sanitizer nearby, and although it isn't a leading source of transmission, considering disposable utensils.

"I think the risk of, really, transmission of this virus by fomites or from inanimate objects is probably not the major way that this virus is transmitted," he added.

"The outdoor environment, while it's not risk free, but just because of the fact that you have more air circulation, small particle aerosols- which we now know are the major way that the virus is transmitted- emitted from person to person are generally dispersed fairly quickly," Dr. Winslow described.

Staying outdoors and socially distancing is key.

"The last place you want to be is with a group of people is inside a building," Dr. Swartzberg said. "But frankly, no one should be outside or inside unless they are social distancing, and unless they are wearing a mask."

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He continued, "You're asking for trouble, not just for yourself, but for other people. By that I mean, if you get infected, you may not even get sick from it, but you can spread it to somebody who could die from it."

New Harris Poll data released Thursday found a majority of those surveyed won't be gathering with others this July 4th.

A solid 25-percent said they had "no plans" for celebrating, 61-percent said they'd avoid gatherings altogether because of COVID-19 concerns, and only 39-percent said they'd be attending or hosting for the holiday - most of them in homes.

"We want to celebrate things. I get it. I've been there. I am there," Dr. Swartzberg reasoned. "But we have to think beyond that."

As we head into the holiday weekend, health experts remind us, COVID-19 remains a significant health threat, regardless of what we're celebrating.

"I think the way you should celebrate Fourth of July is to honor the country by not getting together with groups, by wearing a mask when you're out, and social distancing," Swartzberg added. "I think that this is a different Fourth of July because we are in the midst of a pandemic. We want to celebrate this country and the country's founding and what this country means, and the way to celebrate it is to honor the things that we should be doing to protect ourselves and to protect other people."

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As the pandemic continues, Swartzberg said, "We're starting to learn what this means and how we have to act. Unfortunately, it takes a while for us- our emotions to catch up with our intellect."

In his 40 years of studying infectious diseases, he admitted he isn't surprised at how people are treating the current pandemic.

"I'm not surprised at all because our emotions have been leading us for a while now in the wrong direction," he said. "But ultimately, people are going to learn. The problem is, I don't want people to learn by dying or losing loved ones. That's not the way we want to learn about this."

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