As coronavirus cases rise, Kemp has no plans for new restrictions

Gov. Brian Kemp. AJC/Steve Schaefer

Gov. Brian Kemp doesn't plan to impose new restrictions or require the use of masks to combat the spread of the coronavirus in Georgia, he said Friday as he tried to balance an increase in cases of the disease with his decision to rollback limits.

The Republican said mandating masks is a “bridge too far for me right now” and said the state continues to “hold our own” in the quest to contain the disease, citing increased troves of life-saving personal protection equipment and testimony from hospital executives encouraged by new treatments.

“I’m certainly not imposing new restrictions right now. I think what we have on the books has done very well for us,” said Kemp at a media briefing outside a testing facility in Gwinnett County, where there’s been a recent spike in cases of the disease.

“We’re not letting our guard down,” he added, urging Georgians to wear masks and practice social distancing. “We’ve got to continue to fight the fight hard everyday. We’ve got to continue to jump on the hotspots.”

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His remarks come as rising outbreaks in Georgia and across the region threaten to reverse months of efforts, such as social distancing and economic restrictions, aimed at slowing the spread of the disease.

The hospitalization rate of the disease in Georgia is climbing and the state hit new daily coronavirus case records on four days this week.

Some of the largest spikes have occurred in rural counties in south and West Georgia over the last few weeks, and in recent days metro Atlanta counties have experienced increases.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis showed adults under 30 make up the fastest growing group of new infections, calling into question whether the state can keep its economy open while also keeping the virus at bay.

The governor said “miraculously” there doesn’t appear to be a link between the spread of the disease and protests over race and justice that have brought thousands to the streets, but he said he was particularly concerned about a broader rise in cases in younger people.

“The summer has approached. More people are getting out. That’s certainly created an uptick in cases, not only Georgia but around the country,” he said. “The younger population are starting to realize that they’ve got to be careful, too.”

Asked specifically about the use of masks, Kemp said he was concerned there was no widespread “public buy in” to a requirement while noting that he dons protective gear in public and private.

“There’s some people that just do not want to wear a mask. I’m sensitive to that from a political environment of having people buy into that, and creating other issues out there,” he said. “But it’s definitely a good idea.”

'It's going to spread'

Some other states grappling with an increase in cases are pausing their reopening plans. The governors of Nevada, North Carolina and Texas announced this week plans to slow or stall proposals to phase in new parts of the economy.

In Georgia, however, there aren’t as many restrictions still in place after weeks of rollbacks aimed at salvaging the economy and hundreds of thousands of Georgians who lost their jobs.

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Georgia was among the first states in April to allow indoor dining and personal care services, such as barber shops and nail salons, to resume operations if they follow guidelines. And over the next weeks, he signed orders letting nightclubs, bars and live entertainment venues reopen with restrictions.

In many ways, life has returned to a new semblance of normal. Beaches are crowded with sunseekers after temporarily closing months ago. Restaurants, bars and cinemas have reopened with restrictions. Malls have roared back to life.

And many churches have resumed in-person worship services, including the Lilburn congregation housing a coronavirus testing site where Kemp held his press conference on Friday.

As some mayors and community leaders explore ways to impose local restrictions, Kemp said he no plans to return to a piecemeal approach in Georgia that dominated in March before he signed statewide orders.

“We’ve asked our citizens to be part of the solution and not part of the problem,” said Kemp. “It’s a virus. It’s going to spread. We’re not going to stop it from happening. We’ve got to be smart about who’s susceptible to it.”

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