SALT LAKE CITY — With summer winding down, many Utah families will use this Labor Day weekend as an opportunity to get outdoors and have some fun in the warm weather. But the coronavirus pandemic has introduced a new danger to a holiday that already sees its fair share of accidents and recreational perils.
Experts from Utah State Parks and Intermountain Healthcare are urging Utahns to take precautions while driving, boating and off-roading this weekend. Dr. David Hasleton, Intermountain's senior medical director of emergency medicine and trauma operations, said hospitals "absolutely see more trauma-related incidents" over Labor Day weekend each year.
Here are some of their tips for staying safe over the holiday weekend:
Hasleton said a "majority" of injuries over the holiday weekend are typically driving-related. "There are more people out on the roads," he said. "We see some don't wear a seat belt. We see more crowded cars, more people in cars than ought to be."
Labor Day weekend typically concludes the "100 Deadliest Days of Summer," in which accident totals are elevated, according to Intermountain.
"Drivers need to make sure they are well-rested, not distracted, divide driving duties, and make sure everyone is buckled up," Hasleton said. "Lives will be saved this weekend because people wore their seat belts."
The National Safety Council estimates that 400 people will die nationally in traffic-related incidents this weekend.
Utah has experienced 12 boating-related fatalities this year, according to a release from Utah State Parks. It encourages all Utahns to wear a life jacket on the water even though, legally, only those under 13 are required to do so, according to State Parks spokesman Eugene Swalberg.
"We're recommending and suggesting folks to physically put that life jacket on them," Swalberg said, whether they be in a motorized boat, on a paddleboard, or in a kayak. "Nationally," the release says, "80% of people who drowned in boating accidents would have survived had they been wearing a life jacket."
Swalberg also reminds Utahns to consume alcohol responsibly and not operate a boat under the influence. "The same penalties exist for operating under the influence if you're operating a boat ... as if you were operating a vehicle on the highway."
But a big danger to boaters is one many don't consider, Hasleton said: carbon monoxide poisoning. It doesn't happen often, he said, but it's "devastating" when it does.
Intermountain recommends that boaters avoid the back of the boat while the engine is running and stay away from closed-off, poorly ventilated areas. "Especially the cabin boats and the house boats," Hasleton added.
Medical and state parks officials recommend that all riders on off-highway vehicles wear a helmet; riders under 18 are required by law to do so. They also remind riders to fasten their seatbelts if their vehicle has one. Hasleton said children should never ride such vehicles without adult supervision.
"If some children under the age of 16 do drive them," he said, "they need to be educated, have had proper training, wear a helmet, and have significant adult supervision even with these teenagers." Riders under 16 need to be certified to operate an ATV legally.
According to Intermountain, a child's risk of being hospitalized from an off-road vehicle accident is 1,000 times greater than from riding in a car.
Hasleton said Utahns should avoid sun exposure during peak hours this weekend. "Usually 10 or 11 in the morning to about 3 in the afternoon," he said. Find shade and use sunscreen, he added.
"Especially for the very young and the elderly, those with significant medical issues already," Hasleton said. "And stay hydrated. Those are the big things that we see with sunburns, hydration and medical conditions that are exacerbated because of being outdoors in the heat."
Saturday's weather calls for a high of 98 degrees in Salt Lake City; high temperatures should cool by about 10 degrees on Monday.
"Intermountain dermatologists note sunscreen or sunblock isn’t just for going to the pool or hiking outdoors but anytime you’re out in the sun," the release says. "Doctors say sun damage now can lead to serious problems down the road."
Swalberg expects state parks to be crowded throughout the weekend. He said parks have reduced their capacities this year to help Utahns maintain physical distancing.
"Many of our parks were coming to capacity often," Swalberg said. Popular state parks include Jordanelle, Willard Bay, Deer Creek, Sand Hollow, Quail Creek and Gunlock. "It wasn't uncommon for, say, Jordanelle, for every weekend during the summer, or for the better part of the summer, to come to capacity."
He anticipates that many parks will reach capacity this weekend and recommends Utahns arrive early or come later in the day to avoid crowds or being turned away.
"This is a hard one," Hasleton said about the coronavirus risk for Labor Day travelers. "We know that people have been cooped up, or they've got this pent-up need for socializing, especially with family and friends. But what I would recommend, knowing that people are going to get together, is to maintain as much distance as you can — and you can do that safely and still have a good social time — and number two, if you can't maintain some of that distance appropriately, even outside, then masks should be worn."
On Thursday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert urged Utahns to be cautious while celebrating Labor Day weekend.
"We've asked everybody to use a little common sense, which goes a long way toward helping us resolve this challenge," Herbert said in a news conference. "We have Labor Day coming up this weekend — the last opportunity to go out there and have fun in the sun and socialize with others.
"We just want you to be careful. Don't be foolish in what you do out there as you associate," he added. "We don't want to have a spike in infections as we come back a week or two weeks after the holiday season. So be wise, follow the protocols which we know work: wearing of a mask, social distancing, proper hygiene. Those kinds of things will go a long way toward making sure we continue to control the case numbers here in the state of Utah, and the infection rate to continue to go down."
More information on recreating during the pandemic is available on the Utah State Parks Responsible Recreation page.