Top U.S. and state health officials and practitioners all agree — Labor Day will determine how the virus will spread (or decrease) this fall.

Coronavirus Updates, Your Health | one year ago

It’s a Mix for Labor Day — a Mix of Concerns, of Opportunities and How to Have a COVID-Safe Labor Day

Top U.S. and state health officials and practitioners all agree — Labor Day will determine how the virus will spread (or decrease) this fall. How you gather or avoid gathering could be an opportunity for giving the national a “running start” at containing it. So, whether inside or outside, always follow the recommended precautionary measures.  Or even try something new this year: Stay home with your pod. Stay safe.

Ah, Labor Day weekend. It’s the final holiday of the season as summer draws to a close and we enter fall and flu season anew. As we draw closer to this holiday that celebrates the contributions that the American labor movement provided for the nation’s workforce, many people are finding themselves conflicted over making holiday weekend plans with COVID-19 still in the air. After the spikes following other summer holidays, we’re finally beginning to see numbers in North Carolina are trending down. This mix of continuing to follow CDC recommended guidelines, while also entering into a phased approach of reopening businesses and resuming activities poses a serious dilemma for us.

Throughout the duration of this novel virus, we’ve learned a lot.  Of those learnings, the biggest takeaway to remember is that your behavior regarding the three W’s is saving lives:

  • Wear your mask.
  • Wait and social distance at six feet.
  • Wash your hands often.

We’re learning. But, still, the mix of information and the progress we’ve made has us at a crossroads.

For six months since March, we had been contained hunkering down together at home, but now we’re beginning dip our toes back into the water to resume a sense of normalcy. Some kids have returned to school and older kids to college, and their parents have also returned to work outside the home office.

The two other recent holidays, Memorial Day and Fourth of July, contributed largely to the spikes we saw over the summer. So, Labor Day portends its own mix of cautions as experts galvanize the public to be smart about how best to gather together (or avoid it altogether) to celebrate — in an effort to avoid another spike of COVID-19 as this mix of changes converges.

What to Avoid for Labor Day this Year

“What spreads COVID-19 are social activities with longer, closer contact for prolonged periods of time when people are not masked.,” says Katie Passaretti, MD, medical director for infection prevention for Atrium Health. “Eating and drinking at parties and barbecues and engaging in activities at the beach and elsewhere are often interactions when we’re not masked all the time and you’re also with people who you don’t live with or see often. This increases the risk of the disease spreading to more people.”

Dr. Passaretti is concerned about how we’re not mixing all the three W’s, especially during holidays.

“There’s some misconceptions about what is safe – especially outside,” she says. “Even if you are outside, if you are around other people, you should wear a mask. And, keeping a safe distance doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear a mask.”

She also encourages people to:

  • Avoid gatherings based on meals. You have to take your mask off to eat, and it’s really hard to truly stay far enough apart to stay safe.
  • Limit group sizes. Ideally, you know what the behaviors will be of the people you are with. It can be hard and uncomfortable to be the only person at a gathering keeping distance or wearing a mask.

The Problem (or the Opportunity) is What Happens After Labor Day

After Labor Day gatherings, we’ll each return to work, kids will go back to school, college kids will leave us again and get back to campus. Then all that mixing over Labor Day weekend, if not safely done, means there could be an increase in spread, and Labor Day could see spikes far more extreme than for Memorial Day or Fourth of July, when schools were not in session and more businesses were closed.

Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, are aligned with Dr. Passaretti’s recommendations and say a safe Labor Day will make the difference in how we can control the spread this fall.

COVID-19 cases are down 38 percent nationally since it peaked in late July, the White House reports, when cases increased after Memorial Day in May and continued to spread after the Fourth of July.

Atrium Health experts and other public health officials believe that the Labor Day weekend will determine how the virus spreads during the fall months — if the U.S. can get a "running start" at containing it and continue engaging in public health recommendations.

Dr. Passaretti concurs as she stresses again the mix. "All safe behavior has to happen together" — the mix, the three W’s. "After Labor Day, we’ll return to school and work. We don’t want to spread this further."

How Best to Stay Safe for Labor Day

You can still have fun, still celebrate the holiday in your small and safe groups. As part of North Carolina’s Phase 2.5 approach, no more than 25 people are permitted to gather inside and 50 outside, while still all minding the three W’s. Just be extra safe knowing that the mix is key.

Ideas for a COVID-Safe gathering:

In a nutshell, keep it small, stay outside, avoid serving food and drink and always mind the three W’s (wear your mask, wait and social distance at six feet, wash your hands often). Also:

  • Gather with just the people you live with, or people you have decided to be in a bubble or pod. ‘Quarantine pods’ or ‘social bubbles’ in this case are when two or three families agree to socialize with one another but no one else.
  • Set everything up outdoors. But also mind the three W’s for all.
  • Avoid mealtime so masks stay on throughout.
  • Engage in fun party games that don’t involve the sharing of equipment.
  • Mark off 6-foot distances for tables or zones for each household (and to put their chairs, if they’re bringing their own).
  • Set up tables for each household with clean plates and utensils if there is food and drink.
  • Set a few visitors chairs 6 feet from each table so people can mingle.
  • Put sealed masks on each table as party favors (in case they did not bring their own).
  • Don’t have communal appetizer or condiment stations.
  • Give every table small bags of chips or nuts or some other party munchies. And give each table their own dips, salsas or condiments.

The Safest Bet of All?

Try something new this year. Just don’t gather with others outside your pod or bubble for Labor Day. Don’t go to barbecues, the beach, restaurants or bars. Stay home, do not invite anyone over nor go out. Leave the traditional celebrating for Labor Day to next year.

Yet, do something completely different so you can still have fun and get a break. Instead of the usual backyard barbecue with friends and family, do a formal dinner with your family or pod. Get dressed up, light candles, make something special for dinner. Include kids in your preparations so they have a change.

Or, instead, have a labor-free Labor Day. Make it about the easiest of meals, easy clean up — no chores, no school, no work. Maybe create a new tradition for Labor Day and your family this year.

It’s exhausting, this pandemic and all the changes that feel like it will never end, but it will. And how you act for this Labor Day, each one of the choices you make, can be the difference to keeping those you love safe and to returning to a new normal for all our lives.

Atrium Health is committed to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and has partnered with other local businesses to donate 2 million face masks to the community. To receive a free mask, visit to find a pick-up location near you.