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Birthday Parties Can Spread COVID When Infection Rates Are High

Even small gatherings like children's birthday parties can spread COVID when infection rates in the community are high.
Birthday Parties Can Spread COVID When Infection Rates Are H...
Young girl blowing out candles at birthday party

Restaurants and workplaces like call centers have been implicated as locations where people spread COVID-19 infections easily. Big social events like weddings also provide the opportunity for people to transmit the virus even before they know they are ill.

Do Birthday Parties Spread COVID Infections?

Scientists have paid much less attention to more informal gatherings that might have fewer people but closer contact. Now, a study using national health insurance data for most of 2020 compared the rate of COVID infections in households with a birthday in the previous two weeks to those without such an excuse to celebrate (JAMA Internal Medicine, online June 21, 2021).

The scientists analyzed data from 2.9 million households in the study. They also examined COVID-19 infection rates in the surrounding communities. When these were high, households with birthdays were about 30 percent more likely to have an infection. The increase linked to birthdays was modest so long as infection rates in the surrounding county were low.

Children’s Parties Are Riskier:

The researchers found a close link between children’s birthdays and a higher risk of infection. In fact, it was almost three times higher than that associated with adults’ birthdays. The investigators suggest that even small social gatherings like kids’ birthday parties can help spread COVID. That’s especially true when infection rates elsewhere in the community are high.

Perhaps parents are less likely to skip celebrating youngsters’ birthdays, or maybe children are less reliable about washing their hands, wearing their masks and maintaining their distance. With children still unvaccinated and the more transmissible delta variant circulating around the country, parents can’t afford to let down their guards and host a birthday party that could well spread COVID infections throughout a group of friends.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
  • Whaley CM et al, "Assessing the association between social gatherings and COVID-19 risk using birthdays." JAMA Internal Medicine, online June 21, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2021.2915
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