LITTLE ROCK Americans will celebrate a far-from-typical Fourth of July this week as the nation remains in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement is reminding Arkansans that precautions against the spread of the disease should be a part of their holiday activities, along with avoidance of fireworks injuries.


"The virus will not take the holiday off," said ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson. "Try to stay at least 6 feet away from non-household members, and wear a face covering in shared public spaces where six feet of distance cannot always be maintained. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, and use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are not available. Let’s not make the anniversary of our nation’s independence an opportunity for rampant spread of this deadly disease."


The holiday comes in the same week that Arkansas surpassed 20,000 COVID-19 cases. The state’s hospitals so far have not been overwhelmed, but that could change if Arkansans fail to take reasonable precautions against transmission.


Regarding fireworks, the safest approach is to leave them to professionals. Handling fireworks could be especially dangerous this year because the pandemic has prompted increased use of hand sanitizer made with alcohol, which is highly flammable


Those who choose to use fireworks in places where they are permitted should follow these tips from the National Safety Council:



Never allow young children to handle fireworks.
Older children should use them only under close adult supervision.
Never use fireworks while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
Anyone using fireworks or standing nearby should wear protective eyewear.
Never hold lighted fireworks in your hands.
Never light them indoors.
Only use them away from people, houses and flammable material.
Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
Only light one device at a time and maintain a safe distance after lighting.
Never ignite devices in a container.
Do not try to re-light or handle malfunctioning fireworks.
Soak both spent and unused fireworks in water for a few hours before discarding.
Keep a bucket of water nearby to fully extinguish fireworks that don’t go off or in case of fire.
Never use illegal fireworks.

An incident last year in Pulaski County highlighted the risks of misusing fireworks: Five people were injured and 12 were arrested in what was called a "fireworks war." As ACHI noted after that incident, Arkansas has one of the lowest minimum age levels for the purchase of fireworks, age 12 in the region.


"The age group with the highest proportion of fireworks injuries is children under age 15," Thompson said. "Raising Arkansas’s minimum purchasing age to 16 would be a rational, evidence-based change that would result in fewer children being hurt."