St. Patrick’s Day was the first major holiday of the Covid-19 pandemic in the US, and we’ve learned sobering lessons since then.
Young, healthy people who were infected around St. Patrick’s Day have suffered long-term complications. And infections have been spread by people with no symptoms.
But this St. Patrick’s Day, Americans have a new challenge: the spread of highly contagious coronavirus variants.
While St. Patrick’s Day parties may happen, infections don’t have to. Here’s what you should know before you think about toasting green beer with strangers:
The B.1.1.7 strain is really, really contagious
Scientists are worried about several new variants circulating in the US.
The most troubling is the B.1.1.7 strain, said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
That variant was first detected in the UK but has already spread to at least 48 US states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico.
Research shows that in the US, the variant is 59% to 74% more transmissible than the original novel coronavirus.
And new research suggests the B.1.1.7 strain isn’t just more contagious — it could also be deadlier.
Some states have dropped mask mandates — which could increase spread
Despite warnings from health experts, some governors have let go of their mask mandates.
Texas and Mississippi recently removed their mask rules, which has already caused problems for businesses trying to keep their employees and customers safe.
Hotez, who lives in Houston, said the ditching of a mask mandate in his state will have a ripple effect across the country.
“It’s going to accelerate Covid-19 nationally,” he said.
You can’t count on a negative test result to be safe
If you have the foresight to get tested (or ask your guests to get tested), you might end up with a false sense of security.
Testing can lead to false-negative results, especially if you get tested too soon or late and don’t strictly quarantine before and after your test.
And yes, you could be contagious even with no symptoms and a negative test result.
Young people definitely aren’t immune
While young people may be more likely to be asymptomatic when infected, that also means they can easily spread the virus to friends and family without realizing it.
But even young, previously healthy adults have suffered long-lasting Covid-19 complications.
In one survey, 35% of Covid-19 survivors still had symptoms two to three weeks after their tests, according to a CDC study.
In the 18-to-34 age group, 26% said they still had symptoms weeks later.
Some young people have struggled with complications months after infection, such as shortness of breath, chronic fatigue, brain fog, long-term fever, coughing, memory loss and the inability to taste or smell.
Alcohol plus parties often equal zero protection
Attempts to physically distance and wear masks typically go out the window at parties where alcohol is involved.
It’s not just that drinking makes people take off their masks (if they’re wearing one at all). Alcohol can cause people to get closer to one another than usual, Hotez said.
“So this is not the time to have a superspreader event for that UK variant,,” Hotez said.
Pandemic fatigue is real — but totally defeatable
Not celebrating St. Patrick’s Day the way you want to can seem like another letdown after a year of sacrifices. But there will be plenty more chances to party after everyone gets vaccinated.
“The best thing to do right now is to avoid big travel unless you’ve been vaccinated or unless you’ve been recently infected,” Hotez said. “Just try to keep a lid on everything we can until we can fully vaccinate.”
Unfortunately, the vast majority of young people haven’t been vaccinated against Covid-19. But there’s some great news on the horizon:
— If enough people get vaccinated, this will likely be the last year of major Covid-19 disruptions.
— The current vaccines “work really well” against the troubling B.1.1.7 variant, Hotez said.
— President Joe Biden recently said an increase in supply means there could be enough vaccine for all American adults by the end of May.
— The faster we vaccinate and get Covid-19 under control, the faster we can return to normal life.
For those trying to find a safe way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the CDC has several suggestions, including outdoor neighborhood parties with everyone at least 6 feet apart and wearing masks.