Jun 22, 2021 - Health

An unpleasant birthday surprise: COVID

Illustration of a coronavirus particle wearing a backwards baseball hat and sunglasses.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

If you have had a birthday party during the pandemic, you may have increased your likelihood of catching the coronavirus, according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Why it matters: It's well known that social gatherings help the coronavirus spread. But the study illustrates the limitations of government policies — such as closing restaurants, bars and schools — that reduce public gatherings but have no power over private ones.

What they found: In counties with high coronavirus prevalence, households that included someone with a birthday in the prior two weeks had 8.6 more coronavirus diagnoses per 10,000 people than households without any birthdays.

  • Children's birthdays were associated with a larger increase in diagnoses than adult birthdays.
  • There wasn't a difference between counties that former President Trump won in 2016 and those that Hillary Clinton won, "suggesting that individuals’ decisions on whether and how to gather for birthdays were similar between these areas, despite differences in state policies and political views around social distancing and masking."

The bottom line: Viruses don't care whether you're in a restaurant or your neighbor's house. If there's ever another pandemic, we'll be wise to keep this in mind.

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