Will long Labor Day weekend mean another coronavirus spike?

A waiter in a face mask delivers food to the tables outside of a local restaurant during lunch on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, in Hoboken, N.J.

THE ISSUE

“Americans headed into Labor Day weekend — the unofficial end to the Lost Summer of 2020 — amid warnings from public health experts that backyard parties, crowded bars and other gatherings could cause the coronavirus to come surging back,” The Associated Press reported Friday. The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been responsible for more than 186,000 deaths in the United States. “I look upon the Labor Day weekend really as a critical point,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert.

Our actions have a direct impact on the ongoing effort to contain the spread of the deadly virus that causes COVID-19.

When we listen to the health experts and take commonsense precautions, we are stemming the spread.

When we ignore the experts and act irresponsibly, we are putting all of those around us at greater risk.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator and a former student in Lampeter-Strasburg schools, praised Pennsylvanians for their response to COVID-19 in a meeting Thursday with Gov. Tom Wolf. She also commended the governor’s leadership and swift action to curtail the spread of the virus.

“Pennsylvania has controlled their epidemic,” Birx said, as reported by WHTM-27.

But, crucially, she added this: “Pennsylvanians have done a remarkable job, and together we need to get through Labor Day weekend really protecting another.”

In other words, we can’t rest on our laurels.

Sports coaches will often say that it doesn’t matter what a team has done in the past; only how the team performs today.

We must view it that way, too.

We can continue our good progress to contain the spread of this virus in the commonwealth.

Or we can take a step backward, essentially erasing our success to date.

So, on this holiday weekend, we should think twice about how we handle family gatherings, backyard cookouts and parties.

Yes, parties.

Nationally, they’ve been the Achilles’ heel for colleges that are attempting to keep students on campus for in-person classes. We’ve seen multiple stories about the spread of COVID-19 at colleges being exacerbated by student parties.

“On-campus restrictions are being undermined by off-campus partying,” The New York Times reported late last month. “Student codes of conduct are being signed and promptly forgotten.”

The University of North Carolina and the University of Notre Dame are just two high-profile examples of the virus spreading rapidly throughout the student population. Temple University in Philadelphia, responding in part to social gatherings off campus, has moved almost all instruction online for the rest of the semester.

Perhaps it was premature of colleges to bring students back to campus this fall. But, now that they have, it’s probably too much to ask for them to police their students’ social lives around the clock.

College kids, let’s face it, are going to party. We were college students once, too, and we get it.

But we’d ask this: How can we expect teenagers to act like adults when some adults don’t act like adults? The discipline we must summon this weekend to celebrate the holiday safely can serve to set a better example for younger adults.

And we’re going to need that discipline beyond just this weekend. We know it’s wearisome to hear, but we’re headed into another crucial stretch of the COVID-19 battle.

It’s a battle we don’t dare end until there’s a safe and effective vaccine that can be administered to all Americans. Until then, every precaution we take may very well save a life.

A new forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington states that “a fall wave of infections could drive fatalities in the United States to 410,000” by the end of the year, The Washington Post reported Friday. That would mean about 224,000 additional deaths between now and the end of the year. That’s a horrifying number.

“The worst is yet to come,” Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, said. “It’s easy given the summer lull to think the epidemic is going away. ... Bleak times (are) ahead in the Northern Hemisphere winter, and unfortunately we are not collectively doing everything we can to learn from the last five months.”

There is a range in the institute’s projections that’s crucial to understand. The most likely projection is for 224,000 more U.S. deaths. There is also a “best-case” scenario of 102,000 more deaths and a “worst-case” scenario of 434,000 more deaths — in just the next four months.

Again, our actions can directly influence those numbers. And they’re not just numbers. They’re lives — friends, neighbors, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles.

“Are we going to go in the right direction and continue the momentum downward, or are we going to have to step back a bit as we start another surge?” Fauci asked, looking to the Labor Day weekend and beyond.

Please, enjoy your holiday weekend. But enjoy it safely. Wear a mask when you’re around people from outside your household. Insist that others wear their masks. Follow social distancing guidelines. Avoid large and crowded gatherings, especially ones that are indoors.

Listen to the experts.

We need to straighten up and fly right, because what the rest of 2020 looks like depends, in large part, on how we act.