Fireworks, heat and COVID-19: North Texas health experts’ safety tips for the Fourth of July

Fourth of July celebrations on Thursday will lead into a fun-filled weekend for much of North Texas. Pyrotechnics remain a risky staple of Independence Day festivities, COVID-19 infections are on the rise and the sweltering Texas summer is in full swing — and local medical experts are sharing their tips on keeping safe this holiday.

Fireworks

Possessing and setting off fireworks is illegal within and around the city limits of Dallas, Fort Worth, Plano, Denton and other North Texas cities. Setting off fireworks is sometimes allowed on private property in unincorporated areas of a county, like in Denton County. Permitted professionals put on shows across the region.

Watching these public displays is the safest way to enjoy fireworks, said Dr. Anna Suessman, medical director of emergency medicine at Medical City Children’s Hospital. She recommends standing anywhere between 500 feet to a quarter of a mile away from the fireworks.

“You’re still at risk even at a distance — based on wind, wind speed, wind direction — of little particles causing some warmth or even superficial burns,” Suessman said. “So, the furthest you can be in still viewing sight would be beneficial.”

Even smaller, more contained Fourth of July attractions can cause serious injuries, Suessman said. Sparklers can burn at almost 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit — as hot as a blowtorch.

Burns are one of the most common injuries doctors like Suessman see and treat around the Fourth of July season. Children who have burns or other injuries that extend around the circumference of their wrist, finger or hand should seek medical help. Any large burns, burns that have black tissue or burns where a person cannot feel any pain are the most serious and need immediate professional treatment.

Other tips:

  • Only sober adults should be using fireworks
  • Only buy fireworks from reputable dealers
  • Keep a fire extinguisher or bucket of water nearby when setting off fireworks
  • Never try to re-light fireworks that fail to ignite at first
  • Don’t wear loose clothing while using fireworks
  • Don’t stand over fireworks while lighting them and back up after lighting

Heat

High temperatures will sit around 100 degrees across North Texas throughout Independence Day. Heat indices — what the temperature actually feels like — will get up to 110 degrees in some places. The National Weather Service in Fort Worth issued a heat advisory through Thursday.

Dr. Troy Smurawa, a sports medicine physician at the Children’s Health Andrews Institute, said the triple-degree heat means both children and adults are at risk for heat illnesses, including exhaustion and stroke.

While children have the same bodily mechanisms to cool off and prevent overheating, they might not recognize when their symptoms become more severe, Smurawa said.

“They actually might suffer more because of that,” he said. “Also, children, because of their smaller size, and that oftentimes they’re close to the ground, may [be] experiencing a greater degree of heat in their body when they get exposed.”

Signs of heat stroke parents and other adults should look out for include headaches, dizziness, nausea, clumsiness, sluggishness. Fainting, passing out and seizures are less common but more severe symptoms.

Smurawa recommends limiting children’s activity to cooler times of the day, such as early morning or late evening. Frequent rest and water breaks are also important — kids should drink fluids around every 15 to 20 minutes.

Other tips:

  • Sunscreen with an SPF level of 35 or greater is good, but anywhere between 50 and 75 is ideal. People with darker skin tones should always use sunscreen as well.
  • Lotion-like, waterproof sunscreen is stays on better and should be applied significantly to the face
  • Reapply every couple of hours
  • Wear light, loose-fitting clothing that wicks away sweat and other protective gear, like a hat

COVID-19

COVID infections are up in more than 40 states across the country — including Texas. Reported cases in Texas went up nearly twenty percent over the course of one week last month, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Locally, Medical City Dallas says positive COVID-19 cases among its patients have doubled over the past month. Emergency room physician Dr. Ricky Williams said that’s typical of the season.

“It’s summertime, so people are traveling more,” Williams said. “It is 100 degrees outside, and so everyone wants to congregate inside where the AC is. And so, that is probably leading to some of the uptick, I would think.”

Despite the increase in cases, some good news: infected patients have less severe symptoms, Williams said. However, COVID is becoming easier to spread.

Using a mask and routine vaccinations are necessary as the virus spreads and mutates, especially for the elderly and those who are immunocompromised, Williams said. As soon as symptoms do appear, he recommends getting tested immediately and stay home.

Got a tip? Email Toluwani Osibamowo at [email protected]. You can follow Toluwani on X @tosibamowo.

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