By Beau Evans
Georgia officials and public-health experts are urging people to take precautions for COVID-19 during the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend.
State health officials have already spent the past month working to tamp down previous outbreaks of coronavirus cases sparked by holiday weekends over Memorial Day and July Fourth.
In remarks Tuesday, Gov. Brian Kemp said the state has made progress in curbing COVID-19’s spread over August but that Georgians need to be mindful to wear masks, keep their hands washed and maintain distance from others, especially in situations involving large gatherings.
“I want people to go out and enjoy the holidays,” Kemp said. “But do two things: Number one, think about all our public-health officials and our health-care workers who are going to be laboring on Labor Day. And number two, just be smart about what you’re doing.”
Traveling for the three-day weekend and holding big get-togethers could pose serious risks for sparking flare-ups of coronavirus cases, said Dr. Henry Wu, assistant professor in the infectious-diseases division of Emory University’s Department of Medicine and director of the Emory TravelWell Center.
In a news conference Wednesday, Wu advised people to avoid traveling if they have come into contact with anyone infected with COVID-19 and to abstain from businesses like restaurants where staff do not wear masks properly.
Keeping space between people is critical from reducing the chances for viral transmission, even in outdoor areas where it may seem safer to congregate more closely, Wu said. He advised against large gatherings like parties for the time being.
“I encourage travelers and the general public to really internalize this distancing,” Wu said. “Redefine what you what you consider what is your personal space when you’re out and about.”
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Wu also recommended routine use of hand sanitizer, staying separated from others as much as possible on airplanes or in airport terminals and getting a flu shot to reduce the chances for a concurrent flu season with COVID-19.
“Please travel safely, do your best, take your precautions,” Wu said. “I think it can be done if everyone does it together.”
While the state has made strides since a late July peak, Georgia was still seeing a rolling seven-day average of around 2,000 cases per day as of Tuesday and a higher case-positivity rate than the national average, both key markers for assessing the virus’ presence in communities. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, which is also a key marker, has fallen steadily since peaking in July.
Memorial Day in particular likely played a key role in the state’s COVID-19 surge between May and July, according to a report released Tuesday by Amber Schmidtke, an immunology and microbiology expert and former Mercer University School of Medicine professor.
Schmidtke noted the rolling case average spiked in Georgia after Memorial Day from about 605 average cases per day to more than 4,300. Cases especially climbed in areas along the state’s border where the tourism and hospitality industries are important economic drivers, Schmidtke found.
“We need to protect the gains we’ve made in Georgia,” Schmidtke wrote in the report. “This is not the time to lose our focus on measures we know can reduce the spread of COVID-19.”