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Medical professionals across New Jersey say as the Fourth of July weekend approaches, they are already noticing more cases of mishaps involving fireworks because the state's usual slate of public displays has been greatly reduced due to COVID-19 restrictions.

That has likely led more Garden State residents to try and light colorful things on fire in their backyards, the experts say.

Dr. Joseph Calderone, an ophthalmologist with Better Vision New Jersey in Cranford, said according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, fireworks injuries had decreased in 2018 after rising over the previous nine years.

"We don't have numbers for 2019 yet, but there's the fear that 2020 numbers could be very high since there will be very few, if any, professional firework displays happening because of something about a pandemic," Calderone said.

Dr. Michael Marano, medical director of the Burn Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, said based on public health research he has seen, almost 70% of all yearly fireworks injuries happen within a 30-day window surrounding the Independence Day holiday.

Combine that with New Jersey's 2018 legalization of certain firework purchases, and you have a formula for potential catastrophe.

"People also have been sheltered up and they're looking just for a little bit of fun and excitement, and I think we have seen an increase in these injuries because of that as well," Marano said.

Marano said that of the 5,000 or more instances of injuries caused by fireworks every year across the nation, two-thirds are to the hands and face, and one-third occur in children under the age of 15.

Both he and Calderone warned against children handling any kind of pyrotechnics, even including sparklers, which can not only be part of a family fireworks collection but also used in such mundane applications as birthday cake decorations.

Calderone said that 9% of eye injuries reported in 2018 were due to sparklers, and estimated that fireworks account for 20% of eye injuries in a given year, causing everything from chemical damage and corneal abrasions to ruptured eyeballs and retinal detachments, all of which can permanently alter your vision.

He said 50% of those injured are bystanders, and advised standing at least 500 feet away from anything that is being set off in public.

If you are buying your own fireworks, Marano said, consult the flyer on the state Division of Community Affairs website regarding the types of fireworks legally sold in New Jersey and the safety measures that should be taken for each.

"Attention toward having a way to extinguish a fire, if someone is going to be setting these things off in their backyard, for example, either a water source would be particularly helpful, garden hose for example, or a bucket of water," he said.

Calderone said if you do wind up injured, seek medical attention immediately, and in the case of an eye ailment, do not rub or rinse the eye or try to remove any obstruction.

But his best advice is to leave fireworks to the professionals, even this year.

"In the wake of this virus, maybe we should spend more time at the Fourth of July barbecue eating and drinking rather than playing with fireworks," Calderone said. "Happy Fourth!"

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