COVID-19 hits another stark milestone in Georgia on Labor Day weekend

On a day when Georgia announced it had reached a somber new COVID-19 milestone, some metro Atlantans and tourists used the long Labor Day weekend as an opportunity to venture out more than they had before.

Some did so gingerly, partly with masks more or less in place and social distancing as a goal, if not always an accomplishment.

“I’ve been in the house all summer. I haven’t been anywhere,” said Atlantan Antonio Brewer, who made an exception on Sunday to go tubing on the Chattahoochee River in Duluth with extended family members.

They all had been tested, wore masks at times, tried but didn’t always keep social distancing and hoped being outdoors was better than indoors, he said. “But the risk is still there.”

Public health officials and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp repeatedly urged people to limit Labor Day weekend interactions and take precautions to avoid causing another coronavirus spike that could reset efforts to corral the pandemic, kill more people and gut-punch the economy.

Figures released Sunday by the Georgia Department of Public Health showed the states just topped 6,000 COVID-related deaths, hitting 6,037. Just 15 days earlier, Georgia passed the 5,000 mark. A total of 283,199 cases have been reported in the state.

Visitors, some wearing masks, many not, stand on line near each other at the Crossroads ticket plaza at Stone Mountain Park on Labor Day weekend on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. MATT KEMPNER / AJC
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Visitors, some wearing masks, many not, stand on line near each other at the Crossroads ticket plaza at Stone Mountain Park on Labor Day weekend on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. MATT KEMPNER / AJC

Different parts of metro Atlanta saw different scenes over part of the holiday weekend. Some, such as Mary Alice Park on Lake Lanier in Forsyth County, appeared to have fewer visitors than at other times earlier in the pandemic, by one account. But at Stone Mountain Park in DeKalb County, a gate attendant said it seemed like he was seeing more visitors than at any other time during the pandemic.

Park police and fire chief Chuck Kelley said attendance in natural areas appeared to be only a bit larger than other typical weekends during the pandemic, but “much less than normal Labor Days in years past.”

He pointed out that nighttime laser shows were dropped during the pandemic. Numerous local Labor Day weekend events — among them the AJC Decatur Book Festival, Dragon Con, Atlanta Black Pride and the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game — were canceled, postponed or switched to virtual versions.

Visitors to Stone Mountain Park are reminded with signs about pandemic precautions on Sunday, September 6, 2020. (Photo: Matt Kempner/AJC)
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Visitors to Stone Mountain Park are reminded with signs about pandemic precautions on Sunday, September 6, 2020. (Photo: Matt Kempner/AJC)

Rosheda McClendon of Wrightsville, in Middle Georgia, visited Stone Mountain Park with about eight other family members in tow, including family visiting from Virginia.

“We just wanted to find somewhere to bring the kids,” she said. Also on their itinerary: the Georgia Aquarium.

As for COVID-19, she said she wasn’t worried, but “we are always thinking about it.”

Kids at Stone Mountain Park were mesmerized by bubbles on Labor Day weekend, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. MATT KEMPNER / AJC
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Kids at Stone Mountain Park were mesmerized by bubbles on Labor Day weekend, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. MATT KEMPNER / AJC

Lisa and Stephen Creswell, from Greenwood, South Carolina, stopped by the park’s Memorial Lawn for a selfie with their daughters. They’ve been wary of indoor activities in public places. But the girls recently went back to school.

“We’ve got to get back to the point where we stop being scared and live a little, but still be cautious,” Lisa said.

Lisa and Stephen Creswell, from Greenwood, South Carolina, stopped by Stone Mountain Park's Memorial Lawn for a selfie with their daughters on Sunday, September 6, 2020. (Photo: Matt Kempner/AJC)
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Lisa and Stephen Creswell, from Greenwood, South Carolina, stopped by Stone Mountain Park's Memorial Lawn for a selfie with their daughters on Sunday, September 6, 2020. (Photo: Matt Kempner/AJC)

Rob Frazier and his family from Smyrna were on their first real outing to a place like Stone Mountain since the pandemic began. They said they had hand sanitizer in a diaper bag and masks stashed everywhere, but there was no foolproof preparation to account for a toddler trying to touch and taste anything he happened upon.

Other Atlantans said they have skipped normal Labor Day routines. They’ve avoided packed family gatherings in favor of socially distanced chats on neighborhood streets. Or dropped the idea of beach trips or airline travel for the holiday weekend.

Clayton Collie noted the cancellation of his favorite local event of the year, House in the Park, a Labor Day weekend music gathering at Grant Park that he said attracted a wonderfully diverse mix of metro Atlantans and visitors, sweating and dancing en masse.

“You can’t have that in the pandemic,” he said, his voice slightly muffled by his KN95 face mask.

Instead, the East Point resident drove to downtown Norcross for a walk and lunch, a brief break from a holiday weekend of working from home. “I’m exploring areas of Atlanta I normally wouldn’t. That’s my escape from the pandemic.”

With new distancing rules set during the pandemic, families wait at a ticket area near the Summit Skyride at Stone Mountain Park on Labor Day weekend, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. MATT KEMPNER / AJC
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With new distancing rules set during the pandemic, families wait at a ticket area near the Summit Skyride at Stone Mountain Park on Labor Day weekend, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020. MATT KEMPNER / AJC