Gov. Brian Kemp made a stop in Dalton on his “Wear a Mask” flyover tour Thursday morning. Joined by U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams and Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey, Kemp urged Georgians to wear masks to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. He also stressed the importance of flu shots, handwashing and taking personal responsibility for slowing down the virus, particularly ahead of the July 4 holiday weekend.
“Just be responsible. If you’re out on a boat in the middle of the lake with your family or if you’re riding around by yourself in the car, we’re not saying you need to wear a mask. Let’s just be smart and be reasonable. Double down, and let’s get our numbers down,” Kemp said. “What we have to do is take individual responsibility and wear masks when you’re out in public.”
Thursday marked day two of the tour — Kemp and Toomey made stops in Columbus, Albany and Valdosta on Wednesday — and included stops in Augusta and Brunswick as well as Dalton. The tour comes as the state continues to see a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases, reporting a record of 3,472 new cases in one day on Thursday.
Gordon County added another 12 positive cases and one hospitalization on Thursday.
Many of the new cases across the state are occurring among those aged 18-35. Adams implored young people to do their part and to follow the advice coming from health officials across the state and locally.
“The average age of people getting COVID-19 right now is 35. It is important for people in [the 18-35 age] group to understand that you are at risk for hospitalization from COVID, and that you are at risk for spreading it to someone who you love and care about,” Adams said.
“The power to slow this virus lies in the hands of the people of Georgia, literally. I want you to understand my surgeon general’s prescription for being safe as we go into this holiday weekend,” Adams continued. “Number one, know your risk. It’s important to know that people who have high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity are at higher risk for this disease. Number two, know your circumstances. Are you going to be going inside or outside? Are you going to a place where it’ll be difficult to social distance? Those two things will give you a better understanding of whether you should go out or not. Number three, know how to keep yourself safe.”
Keeping yourself safe, Adams said, includes washing your hands frequently and thoroughly, using hand sanitizer when handwashing isn’t an option, maintaining social distance whenever possible, wearing face masks to protect yourself and others and staying home when sick or at high risk.
Kemp, also addressing young people, emphasized that slowing the spread of COVID-19 would not just keep people safe, but would also make it possible for life to return to normal.
“They are not going to be sitting in Sanford Stadium or any other football stadium in the fall if people don’t wear their masks now and we don’t drive these numbers down and get rid of this pandemic. That is motivation enough for me, I can assure you, and I think it is for most of our young people too.”
An uptick in the number of cases in the Hispanic population was also a topic of discussion Thursday.
Toomey said she and other healthcare officials, including Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John King, the first Hispanic statewide official in state history, are doing everything they can to make information about the virus available to those communities in Spanish. They are also reaching out to trusted voices in those communities, be they church leaders or farmers, to ensure the information is reaching its intended audience.
“The key is a focused communications strategy targeted at young Latinos, healthy Latinos, that reinforces this message in Spanish, in a language they understand. We also want to engage local leaders. They will be key in communicating with these people and these communities,” King said.
Though the push for the public to wear masks was a focus of much of the conversation on Thursday, Kemp said he does not intend to make wearing a mask a statewide mandate.
“I just trust Georgians to do the right thing. I don’t think we need a mandate to do that,” Kemp said. “I’m trusting our citizens.”