Opinion

Opinion | We should be just as careful about covid-19 in relatives’ homes as we are in grocery stores

As the fall school term approached, universities thought that they could effectively implement similar protocols on campus. They instituted safeguards including reduced class size, improved classroom ventilation and daily symptom checks. The problem? Students got infected when they engaged in risky behaviors off-campus. At the University of New Hampshire, 11 cases were traced to a fraternity party hosting about 100 guests without masks. Medical degrees apparently provide no guarantee of safe gathering: A single party resulted in covid-19 infections in 18 anesthesiology residents and fellows training at the University of Florida.

At K-12 institutions, the hard work administrators and teachers are doing to enforce mask-wearing and physical distancing will be undone if kids gather after school without similar protections. The risk extends to parents, and increases as families come together with friends and relatives with whom they are likely to let down their guard.

I spoke this week with several public health officials from different parts of the country who noted this same trend. “In the beginning, we focused our efforts on homeless shelters, jails and workplaces that the city has the ability to regulate and enforce,” said Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health. “But over the last few months, only 5 to 6 percent of our cases are being linked to these congregate settings.” She identified the current primary source of spread as informal social gatherings: barbecues, retirement parties and birth celebrations.

Nilesh Kalyanaraman, health officer for Anne Arundel County in Maryland, agrees. He said to me that when his team looks at the data, “We see that family gatherings are coming up as one of the biggest sources of spread.”

Why? “There’s a lot of magical thinking when it comes to covid,” Arwady said. “It’s natural to feel safe among those you know

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