ES News email

The United States is today celebrating Labor Day, a commemoration with origins dating back to the late 19th century.

The national holiday is celebrated every year on the first Monday in September in the US, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Canal Zone and the Virgin Islands.

Canada also celebrates Labor Day on the same day.

But the celebration comes amid warnings from public health officials over the threat posed by coronavirus, which has raced through the US in recent months, killing nearly 190,000 people.

So, here’s what you need to know:

What is Labor Day?

Labor Day is a day set aside to honour working men and women and the contributions they have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of the US.

There is some debate over the holiday’s origins.

Some think Peter J McGuire, a general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honour men and women.

Others believe it was Matthew Maguire, a machinist, who founded the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.

The first celebration of Labor Day was held in New York in 1882 with a parade and a picnic.

How is Labor Day celebrated?

Traditionally, Labor Day has been centred around grand speeches and parades.

However, modern times calls for modern celebrations, with people spending the day vacationing, throwing parties and spending time with friends and family.

Will this year be different because of coronavirus?

Celebrations are expected to be somewhat subdued this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Public health officials have expressed concern that Labor Day gatherings this year could cause a spike in Covid-19 cases, similar to what happened after Memorial Day and July Fourth celebrations.

Over the summer, the US saw a rise in coronavirus infections, deaths and hospitalisations, primarily in the South and West, that was blamed in part on Americans behaving heedlessly over Memorial Day and July Fourth.

The landscape has improved in recent weeks, with the numbers headed in the right direction in hard-hit states like Florida, Arizona and Texas, but there are certain risk factors that could combine with Labor Day: Children are going back to school, university campuses are seeing soaring case counts, college football is starting, more businesses are open, and flu season is around the corner.

“I look upon the Labor Day weekend really as a critical point,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert.

“Are we going to go in the right direction and continue the momentum downward, or are we going to have to step back a bit as we start another surge?”