Kemp Implores – But Doesn’t Require – Georgians To Wear A Mask As COVID-19 Cases Keep Rising
Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday began traveling around the state urging residents to wear a mask in public, but he stopped short of ordering it.
The governor's tour comes as the coronavirus pandemic continues to surge across the country and a local mask requirement in Savannah took effect.
“We shouldn’t get to that,” Kemp said. “We shouldn’t need a mask mandate for people to do the right thing.”
The governor said Georgians have let their guard down as the statewide shelter-in-place order lifted and hospitalizations and deaths decreased, but said now is the time to renew a commitment to following health precautions.
“Summer hit, [and] people were itching to get out after weeks and months of shutdown, not only in our state but across the country,” he said. “And quite honestly, folks got lackadaisical a little bit – and we’re all guilty of that.”
Kemp's flyaround tour visiting Columbus, Albany and Valdosta on Wednesday and Dalton, Augusta, and Brunswick on Thursday spreading the message of coronavirus compliance the same day an order from Savannah mayor Van Johnson took effect requiring people to wear masks in public places or risk a fine.
As part of the governor’s public health state of emergency and subsequent orders combating the spread of COVID-19, local governments are not allowed to be more or less restrictive than the state’s rules.
But Kemp, fresh off of signing the decimated fiscal year 2021 budget Tuesday, said he was unable to provide comment about Savannah’s order requiring face coverings until he spoke with his legal team.
Kathleen Toomey, the state’s public health commissioner, said that she was concerned about the uptick in cases across Georgia and that stemming the tide of new infections would involve all residents acting responsibly.
“Wear a mask, social distance and wash your hands,” she said. “Not only to protect ourselves, our family, our community, but … you have to do it to ensure that we can do all those activities that we want to do in the fall, like go to college football, go to our basketball games and do the things that we want to do in a crowd. We can't do that now.”
Toomey also said more people need to respond to contact tracing efforts that seek to identify people exposed to someone who has the coronavirus and minimize further exposure.
A new analysis by NPR finds that Georgia is averaging nearly 2,000 newly reported COVID-19 cases a day, an increase of 131% from two weeks ago. The Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard has show a steadily increasing 7-day average of new cases for more than a month.
Georgia’s coronavirus data assigns positive cases to the date corresponding to the earliest known symptoms or date of the test, and not the date the test is reported. The preliminary 7-day average of new cases on June 23 sits at more than 1,600, more than three times the average on May 25.
At least 81,000 Georgians have been diagnosed with coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic; at least 2,805 have died from COVID-19.