In the last weeks, we have been hearing much about the rebound in COVID-19 cases and their relationship to reopening the economy, demonstrations, and beach parties, along with what school should look like this fall. Florida, eastern Virginia, and more recently southwest Virginia have indeed seen increases in cases, and nationally the death rate has begun to nudge up. There are those proposing closing things down again to stop this rise, while others would point out that the unintended consequences of such closure could be disastrous.

What to do?

In recent testimony to the U.S. Congress, CDC Director Robert Redfield laid it out for us. He suggested clear, simple actions we should all undertake to prevent a recurrence of COVID-19. They are: (1) wear a face covering; (2) practice social distancing; (3) maintain hand hygiene; (4) stay smart about gatherings, including avoiding crowds. He went on to suggest that if we followed these practices, we could achieve the same level of COVID control as if we shut the economy down again. Whoa…think about that. If we just do what makes sense right now, we can keep COVID-19 under control just as effectively as a second economic shutdown. Since none of us want another shutdown, let’s all do what makes sense. One at a time:

Wear a mask. Just do it. All COVID germs come from someone’s mouth or nose, and you can’t tell if you have it, so it makes sense to cover your mouth and nose in public. Even a cloth mask stops most of the wet droplets that carry virus particles. Masks work…it’s been shown in many different settings, including in our local health system. If you’re in a public indoor space, or if you’re outdoors in a group, just do it…mask up.

Social distancing. Six feet. Beyond that distance, the germ-carrying droplets start to dry out and disperse, so you’re less likely to inhale enough of them to catch anything. Masking plus social distancing is even more effective, which is why I recommend that classrooms and other necessary meetings practice both.

Hand hygiene. Your mother told you about this. Contaminated hands that touch your face are another way to get sick (and not just with COVID). Wash early, wash often; sanitize when you can’t wash. While you’re at it, clean any surfaces that are commonly touched by multiple people.

Staying smart about social gatherings. COVID-19 is a disease of proximity. The closer you are to someone, the greater your chance to get sick, and the more people you’re around, the more chances you take. That’s why large concerts that serve alcohol, multi-neighborhood yard sales, crowded bars and restaurants, and (alas!) even big county fairs just aren’t a good idea right now. This applies to any event where distancing and masking are unlikely to occur. Some smaller events can still happen, but only with strict spacing and size limitations. Wherever you go, make sure there’s 6 feet or more between people or tables, and the service staff are all masked. Otherwise, stay away. Alcohol also makes it less likely people will behave, so this is not the time to party hearty. Finally, if you’re in a high-risk category (over 65, chronic disease) weigh the risks and benefits of going out at all.

What to do? Hang in there until we have a vaccine, and that is still some months away. Case numbers here in the valley have not shot back up  but they have in other parts of the commonwealth, and some limitations are back in place in Tidewater. We don’t want that to happen here. Let’s make sure there’s no reason for it to do so. Whether government leader, business owner, or concerned citizen, we can all follow Dr. Redfield’s rules above, and keep COVID under control, so our society and economy can continue to thrive.

Dr. Colin M. Greene is director of the Lord Fairfax Health District, Virginia Department of Health