Millions of Americans are getting ready to emerge from coronavirus lockdowns and venture outdoors to celebrate Memorial Day weekend, raising concerns that large gatherings could cause virus outbreaks.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend that people stay home, avoid crowds and connect with family and friends by phone or video chat.
Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said Friday that COVID-19 is declining nationwide, but many people are unknowingly infected, making social distancing, face coverings and frequent hand-washing necessary.
She also suggested disposable utensils for picnics and barbecues.
The holiday weekend arrives amid the bleakest US economy in decades. Unemployment has reached its highest level since the Great Depression. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell warned on Thursday that prospects for a recovery will remain unclear until the health crisis is resolved.
Many Memorial Day commemorations have been cancelled or downsized, while beaches, campgrounds and swimming pools remain closed in much of the country.
Without clear federal guidance, state and local officials have been left to work out how to celebrate the holiday safely.
For the hard-hit tourism and hospitality industry, there is modest hope Memorial Day will mark the start of something resembling recovery.
“This weekend is an early indicator as to how consumers feel about coming back and partaking in normal social behaviour,” said Jason Guggenheim of Boston Consulting Group, which has surveyed consumers.
Data and consulting firm Tourism Economics projects travellers will spend $4.2 billion on Memorial Day weekend, compared with $12.3 billion last year.