Gov. Brian Kemp, left, waits to talk with the press after touring a coronavirus testing site at Lilburn First Baptist Church in Gwinnett County on Friday, June 26, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Kemp to embark on a ‘wear a mask’ tour of Georgia

Gov. Brian Kemp doesn’t plan to require Georgians wear masks. But he’s set to go on a statewide flyaround tour this week to encourage them to do so. 

The governor is among a growing list of Republican officials imploring residents to don face-coverings to help contain a recent surge in coronavirus cases, even as President Donald Trump refuses to wear a mask in public. 

Kemp’s set to travel to Albany, Augusta, Columbus, Dalton, Savannah and Valdosta ahead of the holiday weekend to “encourage citizens to heed public health advice and wear a mask” to stem the spread of the disease, his office said.

“Wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands, and continue to follow the guidance provided by public health officials,” said Kemp, who has made a point to wear a mask in public and on social media. 

In another sign of concern over the increased cases, Kemp extended coronavirus restrictions two weeks for businesses and restaurants that were set to expire Wednesday. It's a break from a string of orders that steadily relaxed regulations.

The order also required the state Board of Education to draft rules to guide local officials planning to reopen public schools. And it extended the public health emergency, which grants Kemp sweeping authority to enact limits, through Aug. 11.

Kemp’s tour comes days after Georgia set a new one-week record of coronavirus cases, logging more than 11,000 new confirmed instances of the disease. It mirrors an uptick of cases of the disease in many places across the U.S., particularly in the South and West, as states rollback restrictions.

Georgia has been among the more aggressive states to reopen its economy since the end of April, when restaurants were allowed to resume dine-in services and personal care business, such as nail salons and barber shops, were permitted to reopen if they followed safety guidelines.

Since then, Kemp has ended the shelter-in-place order for all but “medically fragile” Georgians, allowed larger gatherings and allowed bars, nightclubs and live entertainment venues to welcome guests again if they follow a series of regulations. 

Kemp said he doesn’t intend to impose any new restrictions to combat the disease, and his office Monday pointed to an increase in testing and a fatality rate for the disease of 3.6%, the lowest it’s been since mid-April, as a sign his approach was effective. 

Asked specifically about mask usage, Kemp said that mandating them is a “bridge too far” and expressed concern there was not enough public support to instituting a statewide order.

“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.”

There was also no requirement at the Capitol that lawmakers, lobbyists and Georgia State Patrol officers wear masks, although the Georgia House mandated that legislators wear the face coverings during the two-week rebooted legislative session. 

To emphasize his support for mask usage, the governor also plans to highlight efforts by the state to distribute more than 3 million face-coverings to local government officials and schools. 

Though it's a contrast from Trump, dozens of other Republican leaders - from former presidential candidates to potentially future ones - have pleaded with Americans to don masks.

The group includes Vice President Mike Pence, who issued his plea during a weekend visit to Texas, and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, who tweeted a picture of her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, wearing one with the hashtag “#realmenwearmasks.”

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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