BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp was in Brunswick on Thursday afternoon, a stop on his “Wear a Mask” Flyaround Tour of Georgia, encouraging Georgians to follow the guidance of public health officials to stop the spread of COVID-19 ahead of the 4th of July Weekend.
Gov. Kemp, Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey and United States Surgeon General Jerome Adams made stops in Columbus, Albany, and Valdosta on Wednesday, and Dalton, Augusta, and Brunswick on Thursday to promote the use of face mask as the state sees record reported cases of the novel coronavirus.
Glynn County, where Brunswick is located, has been hit particularly hard by the sometimes deadly virus in recent weeks. Cases there are up more than 645% since the beginning of June. As of Thursday, there have been 972 reported cases and six deaths connected to COVID-19 in the county with a population of 86,000.
Georgia has more than 87,700 total confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and more than 2,800 deaths, according to data released Thursday.
Speaking in front of Southeast Georgia Health System’s Brunswick Campus, Kemp said there would be a significant law enforcement presence at state parks and lakes and on the roadways this weekend.
“Much like we did before our mission in Georgia, is to help people follow the rules, and follow the guidelines,” Kemp said. “We don’t want to be down here writing a bunch of tickets and making somebody have a bad weekend, but we will if we need to.”
Kemp made mention of the declining mortality rate despite the increase in cases. He said there are now 160 testing sites across the state; more testing means more positive cases we’re going to see.
When asked, Kemp said he does not think he reopened the state too soon.
Dr. Adams also addressed the spike in Glynn County.
“For the most honest answer is, it doesn’t matter when you reopen if when you reopen people don’t do the right things to stay open,” Dr. Adams said.
Kemp said he expects visitors to follow the rules and the guidance, whether they’re going to restaurants or other businesses by wearing their masks and practicing social distancing, even on the beach.
“We’re not gonna be the nanny state,” he added. “We want people to enjoy themselves. We just want them to do that in a safe way so we can continue to enjoy and have a profitable rest of the summer for the Golden Isles.”
The Republican governor said despite the surge in cases and calls for residents to wear masks, he does not plan on mandating masks statewide.
“Look, the bottom line is we don’t need to mandate people to do the right thing,” he said.
Savannah on Wednesday became one of the first cities in the state to require people to wear a mask inside stores and other public places or face a fine. Kemp said he hasn’t yet weighed whether the state will take legal action against local governments trying to impose mask requirements.
“I wouldn’t be able to speak to any state action because I haven’t had time to discuss the matter with our legal team,” Kemp said.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson saw things differently, saying, “I do not believe that we have any other choice” while announcing on Tuesday an emergency order requiring a mask be worn by anyone entering a business in the city.
That order could set up a battle between local officials and the state. A series of executive orders from Kemp have prohibited local governments from setting coronavirus restrictions that go beyond those imposed by the state.
Georgia has seen a startling surge in confirmed cases of the coronavirus in recent weeks. While other states seeing an increase, such as Florida, Arizona, Texas and California, have moved to reverse reopenings or impose new restrictions, Kemp has steadfastly declined to do so, saying the restrictions already in place are sufficient.
New daily confirmed cases in the state have been steadily trending upward since May, after a short period of decline between late April and early May that followed a since lifted stay-at-home order from Kemp. Cases have increased sharply in recent weeks.
There were 1,570 people hospitalized in Georgia with the virus Wednesday, up from 1,124 people a week earlier.
Georgia has been among the most aggressive states in the country in allowing businesses to reopen amid the pandemic, with Kemp giving the green light to places including tattoo parlors, hair and nail salons and bowling alleys in late April. Restaurants, retail stores and bars have also reopened with restrictions.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s top infectious-disease expert, told U.S. lawmakers Tuesday that the rise across the South and West “puts the entire country at risk.”
Savannah’s mask order does not apply to those age 10 and under or when a person is eating or drinking, and anyone who cannot wear a mask because of physical or medical reasons is exempt. Violators face fines of up to $500.
For many, the coronavirus causes moderate symptoms. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.