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New Year's Eve parties are a 'Covid-19 dream.' Here's why they can be especially dangerous

Yes, 2020 was largely a dumpster fire....

Posted: Dec 30, 2020 6:08 AM

Yes, 2020 was largely a dumpster fire. No one blames you for wanting to ring in the new year. But celebrating the wrong way could lead to months of misery due to Covid-19.

"The problem is we have so much Covid-19 transmission going on in the US right now," said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

"Practically speaking, what that means is if you go to a party with five or more people, almost certainly there's going to be somebody with Covid-19 at that party."

Any gathering with people outside your special bubble is risky. But there are several reasons why New Year's Eve parties can be especially dangerous:

They're probably indoors: New Year's Eve could be the coldest holiday of the pandemic -- meaning more indoor parties and increased risk of aerosolized spread.

Scientists now know coronavirus "can linger in the air for minutes to hours," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

"These viruses may be able to infect people who are further than 6 feet away from the person who is infected or after that person has left the space."

Guests might not wear masks all the time: Whether they're toasting champagne at midnight or nibbling on snacks all night long, partygoers will likely take their masks off -- if they're wearing one at all.

Even if the event is small, anyone outside your social distancing bubble could get infected or infect others.

"If you have a party in your neighborhood, or if you just invite some friends over, there's a pretty high risk," Hotez said.

It's important to remember coronavirus can be spread just by talking. And many infections come from people who don't have symptoms (or who don't have symptoms yet).

Young people might think they're invincible: Even young, previously healthy people have suffered long-term complications from Covid-19.

"We see severe illness among healthy, young adults with no apparent underlying causes," Hotez said.

"Whether that's due to ... a higher dose of the virus, whether they have genetic alterations they don't know about -- we just don't understand. So we can't reliably predict who's going to handle this virus well, and who doesn't."

Some young people have experienced long-term brain fog, difficulty breathing and extreme fatigue months after infection.

Other complications can include "long-term vascular injury, cardiovascular injury, lung injury, neurological effects, also cognitive impairments," Hotez said.

Generally, younger people are often more likely to be asymptomatic than older people. But that poses another problem: the risk of spreading coronavirus to many people without knowing it.

Revelers might sing or shout: Singing and shouting can be dangerously effective ways of hurling coronavirus into the air.

In Washington state, for example, 53 members of a choir fell sick (and two people died) after one member attended rehearsals and later tested positive for Covid-19.

New Year's parties are 'a Covid-19 dream'

Because coronavirus is highly contagious, "it doesn't take much for this to spiral out of control," Hotez said.

"The loud voices to get your voice heard over the music. The lack of wearing masks. The fact that they're indoors. The fact that people are drinking alcohol, so they may be closer to one another than usual. These New Year's Eve parties are perfectly made for the SARS-CoV-2," or the scientific name for the novel coronavirus.

"This is a Covid-19 dream for the virus, unfortunately," Hotez said.

"All of these reasons are important reasons why we should not be gathering on this New Year's Eve."

Is there any way to celebrate New Year's safely?

"Yes, absolutely -- with whoever you're social distancing with," Hotez said.

The CDC has a long list of ideas on how to celebrate New Year's safely. Among them:

-- Have a virtual party with friends and celebrate the countdown together.

-- Plan a neighborhood countdown to midnight. Neighbors can go outside and cheer from the front of their homes.

-- Pick up a special meal from a local restaurant to share with your household.

-- Watch celebrations on TV or online.

-- Call, text or leave voicemails for friends and family wishing them a happy new year.

If you already have plans for a big party, don't be afraid to cancel them to ensure a healthy start to 2021.

"It's okay if you decide to postpone or cancel your gathering," the CDC says. "Do what's best for you."

And don't worry, this will probably be the last time health experts beg you to hunker down for New Year's Eve.

"Once we start getting vaccinated, we'll be in a much better position by the middle of next year," Hotez said. "And we can have a much happier New Year's 2022."

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Data is updated nightly.

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