Erin Bradley, PhD, MPH is a public health researcher and Linda Hubert Professor of Public Health who teaches epidemiology and biostatistics at Agnes Scott College. ‘

Economic, health, and political consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in Georgia have often placed our state in the national spotlight. Among the first states to begin reopening before meeting safety benchmarks, many quarantine-fatigued Georgians resumed in-person gatherings with insufficient or inconsistent safety measures, resulting in increased transmission in our communities. Beyond fatigue, a relatively low number of cases early on, due to effective lockdowns, led some to conclude the pandemic was a hoax or not as serious as advertised. Yet, with more than 270,400 confirmed cases, 24,600 hospitalizations, and 5,600 Georgians’ lives lost in less than 6 months (Georgia Department of Health, 9/1/20), the seriousness of COVID-19 is apparent.

While we cannot erase the impact COVID-19 has had on individuals, families, and communities, each of us has the power to prevent further health and economic damage in our state. No single action will reduce the amount of virus circulating in our communities, but together, small measures can make a big difference. This Labor Day Get Georgia Well is urging people to keep it small, keep it safe and #MaskUpGA. Outbreaks from smaller gatherings are easier to stop than outbreaks from larger gatherings, especially if people know each other instead of gathering in public places with strangers. When you think about it, prevention requires just a few simple actions: Gather in small groups outdoors, wash your hands correctly, give people space, and cover your face (wear a mask on your way to/from places and when closer than 6 feet of space).

It is important to acknowledge that many have been confused by mask guidance, which has contributed to some of the resistance to wearing them now. Generally speaking, public health messaging took for granted that people understood the scientific process and knew that guidance inevitably shifts as we learn more about a virus that is new to us. Scientific caution early on was intended to avoid overstating the importance of masks before we had strong evidence, creating an additional burden or inconvenience for people if masks would not reduce risk, and exacerbating N95 mask shortages for healthcare workers. Unfortunately, when the guidance was extended to include masks in light of additional evidence, ineffective communication left some feeling they were receiving mixed signals.

No matter how we got here, we’re here together. Collectively, we have the power to determine what happens next. Many of us are eager for restrictions to be lifted, and practicing preventive behaviors can expedite this process. Let’s change course today! Virtual contact is always the safest option. However, if you plan to gather physically this Labor Day, celebrate safely with the future in mind. Are you looking forward to gathering for the holidays in November and December? Increase the chances of your family and friends being able to enjoy the holidays together by practicing simple safety measures now. Do your best to keep it small, keep it safe and #MaskUpGA this Labor Day and every day. Gather in small groups outdoors, wash your hands correctly, give people space and cover your face (wear a mask on your way to/from a place and when closer than 6 feet of space). It’s up to us, Georgia!