Wary of new virus surge, Kemp warns Georgians not to let ‘guard down’

Gov. Brian Kemp speaks Friday during a press conference at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport in Atlanta before starting a fly-around tour of the state to encourage Georgians to take precautions over the Labor Day holiday weekend to stem the spread of the coronavirus. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

‘Our state’s health and well-being rest on what Georgians choose to do over this Labor Day weekend.’

Wary of another post-holiday spike in coronavirus cases, Gov. Brian Kemp embarked on a statewide fly-around tour Friday to urge Georgians to take precautions to stem the spread of the disease over the Labor Day weekend.

The governor warned that recent gains in the fight against the disease, including a sharp drop in new coronavirus cases and the hospitalization rate, will be reversed if “people forget that we are battling an invisible enemy and, unfortunately, some let their guard down.”

“This progress can be erased very quickly if we grow complacent and ignore the guidance and public safety measures that we have in place,” he said. “Our state’s health and well-being rest on what Georgians choose to do over this Labor Day weekend.”

The governor has been pilloried by public health experts and other critics who say he should take more drastic action to defeat the disease, including implementing new economic restrictions and imposing a statewide mask mandate.

ExploreGeorgia governor weighs more changes to state's coronavirus rules

Kemp has repeatedly ruled out both those possibilities, saying he’s following a “balanced, measured approach that protects people and paychecks.”

Pressed again Friday about his opposition to a mask mandate — he has urged the use of face coverings but not required them — he framed it as a philosophical divide.

Gov. Brian Kemp speaks Friday during a press conference at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport in Atlanta. The governor and first lady Marty Kemp went on a fly-around tour of Georgia, encouraging Georgians to take precautions to stem the spread of the coronavirus. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

“Look, that’s just not me,” he said of a statewide mask mandate, before referring to new state guidelines that allow local officials to require them.

“I believe that our local officials that have mandated that think they’re doing the right thing to keep people safe,” he said, adding: “There’s also people who don’t need a government mandate to do the right thing. That’s why I’m here today asking people to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Georgia struggled with a surge in coronavirus cases following the Memorial Day weekend, posting increases in cases for most weeks between mid-May and mid-July. A recent report by a former Mercer University microbiologist links the uptick to travel and gatherings around the holiday.

For about a week in mid-August, the summer surge made Georgia the highest in the nation for per capita transmission of the virus, according to the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The latest report, issued Sunday, dropped Georgia to seventh.

Georgia remains in the “red zone” for new cases of COVID-19, according to the report. Georgia’s rate of new infections remains roughly double the national average and is about three times higher than it was before Memorial Day.

This is Kemp’s second barnstorming tour across the state promoting a message of public safety. Shortly before the July Fourth holiday weekend, Kemp launched a “Wear a Mask Tour” that warned that the college football season could be imperiled if Georgians don’t follow safety guidelines.