Gov. Brian Kemp put the responsibility for stopping the spread of COVID-19 on the people of Georgia during a stop in Brunswick on Thursday.
Speaking under the portico of the Nunnally House in Brunswick, Kemp said despite calls to do so that he did not intend on mandating the public wear masks statewide. He said Georgia should not need to be a “nanny state.”
“We don’t need a mandate to do the right thing,” Kemp said.
Georgia residents are still required by executive order to socially distance — to keep a six-foot distance from anyone outside the household or family — and organized gatherings greater than 50 continue to be banned unless the participants are distancing.
Glynn County saw another large 24-hour increase in COVID-19 cases on Thursday, topping out at 972 leading into the Fourth of July weekend.
The number of cases increased by 16 percent from the day before. Cases have drastically risen over the last few weeks, increasing by 106 percent in the last seven days and by 354 percent in the last two weeks.
As far as the Coastal Health District can tell, there’s not one single cause for the continually increasing rate of new cases.
Part of it is likely the state’s effort to ramp up testing among the general public, but district spokeswoman Sally Silbermann said that isn’t the only reason, as the ratio of positive to negative tests is also increasing.
“We have received no notification of an event in particular that spurred this,” Silbermann said. “With the increased cases we’re seeing in Glynn County and elsewhere, it is really imperative that people take precautions particularly heading into this holiday weekend.”
In a statement to The News on Wednesday, district Director Dr. Lawton Davis said Glynn County is an area of concern in the eight-county Coastal Health District. Glynn, along with Chatham County, meets the criteria he would use to identify a COVID-19 hotspot.
The Golden Isles was Kemp’s last stop on a “fly-around tour” of Georgia with Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams.
Kemp said the trio was making the trip to urge Georgians to wear masks, which he said are effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19 only if everyone is wearing them.
“We cannot be complacent and grow weary,” Kemp said.
Adams addressed growing resistance to business shutdowns, social distancing and wearing masks.
“People want to paint it as a choice between recovery and reopening or protecting ourselves from COVID. People want to present a choice between you either being pro-mask or pro-freedom,” Adams said. “All of those are false choices.”
He also reiterated three recommendations he gave early in the outbreak.
Everyone should first determine their risk level. The elderly and people with underlying conditions, like obesity, asthma or high blood pressure, are at much greater risk than the young and healthy.
Second, one should know about where they are going before they get there. Situations where the rate of virus infections is high or where one can’t distance from others should be avoided, he said.
Finally, he said to know how to stay safe. Regular hand washing, wearing a mask, covering coughs and sneezes and simply staying home when possible are the most surefire ways to keep from getting or spreading the disease.
Masks are an instrument of freedom, he said, as more places will open and stay open and more events can happen if COVID-19 is under control.
“If you want to go to spring break next year, wear a mask. If you want to see Georgia play Florida next year, wear a mask,” Adams said. “I really do mean that. If you want to have prom, young people, wear a mask.”
The virus could be stopped in two weeks if everyone, residents and visitors, would follow all the recommended guidelines, Kemp said.
“Practice social distancing, use hand sanitation — wash your hands — and where appropriate when our in public setting wear a mask,” Kemp said. “It will work.”
Cases continue to increase, particularly in Glynn County where health officials fear a hotspot may be forming, but Kemp said he felt it would not be necessary to require Georgian’s to wear masks.
“We got great people with common sense who know how to use it,” Kemp said.
In Savannah, Mayor Van Johnson imposed a mask requirement in defiance of Kemp’s order tying local governments’ hands on COVID-19 prevention. Kemp said he hadn’t had time to read Johnson’s order, but that he agreed with the sentiment that mask-wearing is essential beating the pandemic.
Coronavirus is not the only threat to the public’s health, however. Adams implored everyone to get flu shots and to not focus on waiting for the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We don’t want to have a bad flu season on top of COVID,” Adams said.
Kemp noted that not all is doom and gloom, as the statewide COVID-19 mortality rate is slowing down. Locally, however, three of the six deaths among coronavirus patients have happened in the last two weeks.