By Tara Gibson - July 1, 2020
Due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, many 4th of July events have been cancelled, postponed, or substantially scaled back. For those that are still going ahead - and for other outdoor events planned for later in the year - how can public health officials best manage public safety in the coronavirus era?
Even before the US reported its first coronavirus-related death at the end of February, concerns existed for this year's 4th of July celebrations. Falling attendances and declining revenues had already forced some jurisdictions to cancel their celebrations, while others were considering scaling back events due to a world shortage of fireworks.
As the pandemic swept across America and social distancing regulations were enacted, dozens more jurisdictions decided to cancel 4th of July events or postpone them until Labor Day weekend. Some enterprising local authorities will be hosting celebrations online, but others will carry on as planned - despite the risk of spreading the virus.
In the same way as the fear of catching the coronavirus is attributed to reduced footfall in hospital Emergency Rooms, the same concern may dissuade many people from attending 4th of July events. Even the President has acknowledged that attendance for the second annual “Salute to America” event could be down 75% - if the event goes ahead at all.
However, while vastly reduced attendances are likely, they are not guaranteed. This year the 4th of July falls on a Saturday; and, if it is a fine, sunny day, people may venture out of their homes to enjoy a little relief from months of lockdown. It may also be the case that events that are going ahead attract many more visitors from out of town due to scarcity of celebrations in their own areas.
Some public health officials have already considered coronavirus safety for an unknown number of visitors by issuing a “stay-in-car” order. But, there will still be many other health officials wondering how to best manage public safety in the coronavirus era, not only for 4th of July celebrations, but - assuming no COVID-19 vaccine is found in the short term - for outdoor events later in the year.
The three key areas for public health officials to focus on are design, the provision of hygiene facilities, and communication. Certainly, wherever possible, public health officials should instigate one way systems for population flow and place 6 foot distance markers on floor surfaces. These two measures alone will raise public awareness of coronavirus safety.
With regards to hygiene facilities, public health officials should follow the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) when it comes to the provision and sanitization of portable restrooms. It is also recommended to place portable hand sanitizer stands at regular intervals to reinforce the message of coronavirus safety.
Communicating population flow policies, restroom policies, and coronavirus safety best practices will also help reduce the threat of transmission. However, how policies and best practices are communicated is important in order for them to be effective. For example, publishing them on a web site and hoping somebody reads them is not ideal.
The best way to communicate policies and best practices for outdoor events is to take advantage of mass notification solutions with SMS opt-in/opt-out capabilities. The basic role of the mass notification system is to send visitors reminders to maintain social distancing, follow population flow policies, and use hand sanitizers. In this respect, there is not much incentive for visitors to opt into the system.
However, if public health officials can encourage visitors to voluntarily opt-in by organizing a free draw for texting (for example) “JULY4” to a short code number (i.e. 742020), a lot of people will register for the service. It is also a good idea to incentivize people to register ahead of the event, so that if the maximum safety attendance for the event is reached, organizers can text potential visitors to stay away.
A system of this nature with two-way capabilities can further help manage coronavirus safety at outdoor events by giving visitors a point of contact if they witness somebody displaying the symptoms of COVID-19. By using the mass notification system as a tip-off solution, event organizers can quickly extract visitors displaying symptoms of COVID-19 to prevent the virus spreading among other attendees.
The theory of having eventgoers sign up for notifications, and then help public health officials manage coronavirus safety at outdoor events, may sound a little too-good-to-be-true. However, there is evidence (from the country most successful in combatting COVID-19) to suggest good communication builds a community spirit and the community is willing to reciprocate.
Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12, State & Local, Higher Ed, Corporate, and Healthcare, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!
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