Opinion: Ga. needs its people, economy both healthy

Following public health guidelines this Labor Day weekend will help speed recovery.

Here’s something we all can agree on: We want healthy Georgians and a healthy state economy.

Yet both are exposed to threats due to COVID-19. Nationwide, cases have now topped 6 million with more than 270,000 right here in the Peach State.

The Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Hospital Association are participating in an effort called Get Georgia Well. We want to stop the spread of COVID-19, both for our health and for our economy. Our goal is to urge people to change simple behaviors to protect the health of themselves and their loved ones.

As Labor Day approaches, we must remember that the virus is still spreading too freely throughout metro Atlanta and across our state. Let’s not forget the lessons we learned from Memorial Day. People let their guard down. They gathered in larger numbers, did not practice social distancing and did not wear masks — all of which contributed to the increase of COVID-19 cases in Georgia. As we make plans for Labor Day weekend, let’s agree to celebrate, but to stay in line with CDC and Georgia Department of Public Health recommendations: Stay masked up, wash your hands, keep gatherings small and keep at least six feet between you and other people. By consistently doing these simple things, we can keep Georgians safe.

This isn’t about politics. It’s about people making changes in behavior that are proven to slow the spread of COVID-19 and return Georgians — and Georgia’s economy — to a healthy state.

Sure, it’s tempting to gather with family and friends for a Labor Day cookout. But gatherings should be outside, ideally, and small enough to allow at least six feet between people who don’t live in the same household. That’s smart. That’s safe.

One of the most effective measures to halt the spread of COVID-19 is the widespread wearing of masks. When people wear masks correctly, it goes a long way in holding down the spread of the virus through sneezing, coughing and even talking. This we know for certain. You wear a mask to protect yourself and others. Wearing it correctly means positioning it to cover your mouth and nose completely. For example, stay away from those who wear their mask around one ear or below their nose, mouth, or chin.

Katie Kirkpatrick

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Earl Rogers, GHA

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Here’s the Labor Day advice immunologist and microbiologist Amber Schmidtke, Ph.D., gives in her analysis released this week that links Georgia’s July spike in COVID-19 cases to personal behavior at Memorial Day gatherings:

“Limit social gatherings to 10 people or fewer. Ideally, hold these events outside and encourage people to be self-contained. Bring your own food and drinks, keep at least 6 feet away from each other and enjoy one another’s company from a safe distance. As a reminder, you are only as safe as the most exposed person in your social circle. If one person in your gathering is exposed to many people for work or other reasons, your entire social group shares that exposure risk.”

We’re beginning to see mounting evidence to suggest that wearing a mask can not only stop the spread of the virus, it can contribute to the reduction of the severity of symptoms for the wearers themselves.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have concluded that if people increased mask use to about 90 percent and followed other CDC guidelines such as staying at least six feet apart, these simple measures would bend the curve as much as another lockdown. But we must temper our optimism with the current reality. From metro Atlanta to rural Georgia, few if any places in Georgia show a 90 percent use of masks. Changing that is our challenge.

Fundamental to stopping COVID-19 is understanding the inextricable link between the disease and its economic consequences. To restore our jobs and business, we have to eliminate the threats to our health and protect the vulnerable populations – the low income, elderly and minority communities that have suffered a disproportionate impact.

A CDC investigation focused on two hair stylists in Missouri who were infected with and showed symptoms of COVID-19. The salon’s policy required cloth face coverings for all employees and patrons.

According to the CDC summary, “investigators found that none of the stylists’ 139 clients or secondary contacts became ill, and all 67 clients who volunteered to be tested showed no sign of infection.”

It’s that simple. Wearing a mask keeps us all safer. So #MaskUpGA!

It’s an imperative we have embraced on behalf of our organizations, representing the interests of the business community and healthcare organizations, to stop the spread of COVID-19 and return Georgia to a healthy state, both for our people and our economy.

Katie Kirkpatrick is president and CEO, Metro Atlanta Chamber. Earl Rogers is president and CEO, Georgia Hospital Association.

We want to thank those who have heeded the call and stepped up to follow the public health guidelines that help keep us all safe. Wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands, and this Labor Day, keep your gatherings small. By doing so, you’ll keep them safe. It’s a pledge each Georgian can take, one that will keep us on the road to recovery.

Katie Kirkpatrick is president and CEO, Metro Atlanta Chamber. Earl Rogers is president and CEO, Georgia Hospital Association.