Three safe ways to enjoy fireworks during a pandemic

Go virtual or go home.

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Many US states have seen a recent spike in COVID-19 infections, which makes a crowded Fourth of July fireworks show an inherently risky place to be—even if you’re not concerned about long-term hearing damage. Without a vaccine, social distancing is still the best way to fight the pandemic.

But if a fireworks-free holiday feels untenable, you have options. Cities like New York and New Orleans are spreading their entertainment out over multiple locations so viewers can stay isolated. Smaller towns are streaming their events on YouTube, or putting out safety guidelines for DIY displays. You can browse your local news or social media groups to learn what’s happening near you—but we’ll give you some general ideas to help with the planning.

In person

If you live in a densely populated city, chances are you’ll be treated to an even grander celebration than usual. At the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for instance, the US Air Force and Navy will conduct flyovers just before sunrise (which they will broadcast online and on TV). The night will end on a 10,000-burst fireworks display that can supposedly be seen within a three-mile radius of the Washington Monument. The D.C. mayor is urging residents to watch the revelry from their rooftops or stoops. Other cities will host ticketed drive-through shows or smaller entertainment in multiple neighborhoods. See Town & Country for descriptions of events in major metropolises across the country.

Online

There’s no better tool for distancing than the World Wide Web. Local governments know this better than most: They’ve shifted to Zoom and Facebook for council meetings and school graduations in the past months and are now doing the same for Fourth of July parties. Places like Coconino County in Arizona are going fully digital with “shoe box parades” and pre-recorded concerts. And if you have a virtual reality system, you can find drone-filmed, 360-degree shows for free on YouTube. To enjoy with the entire family, set up a makeshift projector in your living room or yard and get to streaming.

Private shows

While you shouldn’t start setting fire to the night sky on your own unless you have experience with pyrotechnics, it is an option in every state except for Massachusetts—with some restrictions. In Colorado, for instance, it’s legal to light up ground spinners, glow worms, and cone fountains on private property. (Size and chemical limits do apply.) Meanwhile, in Hawaii, you’ll need a permit for every 5,000 crackers you combust. Your neighborhood might have further rules like noise ordinances, so be sure to reach out to the fire department for a full list and to give them a heads-up of your plans. The American Pyrotechnics Association has a guide to smart, safe DIY displays as well. And please, put the alcohol aside if you’re choreographing the show.

Purbita Saha

Purbita SahaPurbita Saha is the senior editor at PopSci. She was formerly an editor at Audubon magazine and formerly formerly an editor at the UConn paper The Daily Campus. Contact the author here.