By Itoro N. Umontuen

Monday afternoon, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp held his first Coronavirus press conference in five months at the State Capitol, as he doubled down on his stance against mask mandates, various shutdowns and vaccine mandates amid a dramatic increase of Coronavirus cases. Over the previous week, new cases rose 29%, hospital admissions rose 17%, ICU admissions rose 47%, and deaths rose 34%.

Hospital executives have warned they don’t have enough beds and staff as the Delta variant forces more people to be hospitalized. In response, Governor Kemp said Georgia will be increasing supplemental staff in hospitals to help medical facilities handle the increase in patients, offering $125 million in assistance to help double qualified hospital staffing through the end of the year. Additionally, state offices will close Friday, September 3 to encourage employees to get vaccinated. Although, he stopped short of requiring vaccinations.

“I think the additional staffing that we talked about and announced today is just going to continue to help them with the surge that we’re going through,” said Kemp. “And especially for our hospitals on the coast, South Georgia and our more rural hospitals, even the central part of the state and other places and just them having the certainty that we’re going to continue the funding that we have and extend that into December.”

As of Monday morning, more than 87% of Georgia’s ICU beds were in use. More than 40 hospitals statewide were turning away all patients, emergency patients or intensive care patients.

There were 14,130 new COVID-19 cases as of Monday afternoon. The new weekly case average is above 6,000 according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. The Commissioner, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, said 90% of the latest infections and hospitalizations are from the more contagious Delta variant. Kemp said mandates of any kind do not work because of rampant disinformation.

“I think at this point if anybody out there trusts the government; it is probably not many people,” explained Kemp. “When you have the president of the United States that says, get vaccinated, take your mask off, then they reverse that policy. There’s misinformation out there. And look, I get it. There’s vaccine hesitancy in the South.”

Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada and Texas make up 51% of the COVID case load in the United States. 48% of Georgians have received at least one shot of the COVID vaccine.

“I mean, if you look at the numbers and Georgia, you know, we’re doing better than Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana and several other states. I mean, there’s real vaccine hesitancy, we’ve talked about that, Dr. Toomey talked about that, with the Tuskegee experiment with African Americans,” said Kemp.

Kemp said he is against shutting down schools and mask mandates. But, at least 40 districts which include 770,000 students are requiring face coverings. Atlanta Public Schools, Fulton County Schools, and Gwinnett County Schools do require face coverings. Overall, nearly 45% of Georgia’s 1.7 million students do have a mask mandate.

“There’s a lot of conservative, White, rural Republicans that have vaccine hesitancy. And I think that just pushes people into a corner, you see where mass mandates are causing fights at sporting events and on airplanes and other things,” said Kemp. “People know how to deal with the virus. My message to people is: look, talk to your doctor, talk to your local pharmacist, talk to whoever you trust that is involved in healthcare, or your faith leader, about the vaccine to learn more about it, learn about the science, and then make a good decision for yourself. To me it’s the best way to handle this going forward.”

This post originally appeared on The Atlanta Voice.