Family gatherings linked to COVID-19 spikes nationwide, numbers show

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Is it safe to fire up the grill this summer with the family in the backyard?

According to national trends, unless you’re gathering with family from your own household, the answer is no.

Family gatherings and nationwide spikes

Just days ago, a Dallas man who threw a party under the belief that COVID-19 was a Democratic hoax said he regretted the decision after one family member died and 13 others tested positive.

“I cannot help but feel responsible for convincing our families it was safe to have a get-together,” Green told NBC News in a phone interview. “There’s a lot of things that I would have done differently.”

In June, another Dallas family saw 18 members fall ill with COVID-19 after a surprise birthday party.

Those infected — and hospitalized — include Ron Barbosa’s 88-year-old father, his 86-year-old mother and his sister, who is undergoing chemotherapy.

“Everybody says, ‘Oh, it’s my family. I’m going to go see my brother. I’m going to see my cousin,’ and they think that’s a safe word,” Barbosa told BuzzFeed News.

Earlier last month, in Charlotte, North Carolina, health officials say that a single family gathering was responsible for at least 40 cases of COVID-19, likely due to family members and guests who didn’t know they were already infected.

The County Public Health Director Jennifer McCracken said that family members then returned to their daily activities — before showing symptoms — and likely helped the disease spread locally.

The county’s website created an illustration to help explain how the family gathering contributed to further infections — which included a 67-year-old grandparent, an 85-year-old neighbor, and several coworkers.

“This set into motion a person-to-person contact chain that to date has spread COVID-19 to 41 people in 9 different families and 8 different workplaces,” McCracken said.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles County, a spike in infections and hospitalizations were also traced back to family gatherings.

In July, in Madison, Wisconsin, an emergency order was issued after a record spike in cases. In its order, the public health authority said, “48% of the positive cases who were interviewed stated that they had attended a gathering, party or meeting with people from outside their household.”

Just two days ago, Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan explained that 44% of new cases in the state (where cases are surging) were due to family gatherings. This number is higher than even house parties (23%).

An expert panel explained to CNN that while you should limit exposure to family and friends, if you do decide to take the risk, social distancing and mask-wearing is essential.

MORE: This is what health experts want you to know about seeing friends and family

How do you decline invitations to gatherings?

If you’re worried about offending family or missing out, you’re not alone.

There are several ways to still let the people you love feel special without attending a gathering, including sending gifts or via video calls.

Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette experts says to decline invitations, says that no qualifiers or further explanations are needed.

“Don’t go into detail and say, ‘I’m not attending anything.’ I think that’s where you open yourself up for conversation and scrutiny and debate.”

Swann says that family members will have to get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations where they may disagree on what’s safe and what’s not and that’s okay.

If family or friends won’t take no for an answer, however, licensed counselor Erika Krull, says that saying “no” is part of establishing healthy boundaries with family members.

Be aware that this kind of change can take some time to get used to, both for you and the family member you have difficulty with,” says Krull. “Even if they seem offended or react abruptly to your ‘no,’ stay patient.”

MORE: ‘No’ is a complete sentence, licensed counselor says

Krull recommends using kind phrases such as ‘Thanks for asking, that sounds great. But I’m sorry, I can’t.’

For the latest information on safety for gatherings and parties, consult your local health authority, in addition to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention.

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