Kemp: College football could be ‘tall task’ with COVID-19 cases growing

    Gov. Brian Kemp Tuesday urged local officials to use persuasion to get constituents to wear masks in public rather than ordering them to cover their faces. He wore a mask on the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives at the end of the 2020 legislative session. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

    Gov. Brian Kemp may be unlikely to mandate face masks statewide, but he said something Wednesday that may cause reluctant mask-wearers to change their mind: College football season, he said, may be a “tall task” if Georgia’s COVID-19 numbers continue to rise.

    The governor made the comment to reporters gathered at the Peachtree DeKalb Airport to see him off on his two-day “Wear a Mask” fly-around tour that took him to Columbus, Albany and Valdosta on Wednesday. Georgia Public Broadcasting, which was there, provided a recording to the Georgia Recorder.

    Kemp’s remarks came as Savannah’s mayor issued a mandate for face masks when people are visiting restaurants, bars and other businesses in response to a spike in local COVID-19 cases. Savannah became the first major city in Georgia to require face masks.

    “We shouldn’t get to that,” Kemp said Wednesday. “We shouldn’t need a mask mandate for people to do the right thing,”

    He also said his legal team is still reviewing the mandate issued by Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, which goes further than the governor’s approach to face masks. Kemp has urged people to wear face masks and often wears them himself when seen out in public, but he has stopped short of requiring them.

    Kemp is also in the process of distributing some three million cloth face masks to schools and local governments.

    But he made clear Wednesday that there could be more than a fine at stake for those who flout public health guidelines in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.

    “If people, especially our young people, don’t start wearing a mask when they’re going out in public – and our numbers keep rising – that’s going to be a tall task,” Kemp said, referring to college football.

    Georgia is among the states that have seen troubling increases in new COVID-19 cases in recent days, with Georgia now adding more than 2,000 new cases a day. Total cases in Georgia have now surpassed 84,000.

    Kemp attributed the recent increase partly to people – young Georgians in particular – becoming “lackadaisical” about face masks, social distancing and other precautions.

    “We’re all guilty of that, but now is the time to renew our commitment,” Kemp said – particularly, he said, if Georgians want to watch the Bulldogs this fall.

    Jill Nolin
    Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.