ATLANTA – COVID-19 infections and hospital admissions in Georgia continued to surge on Wednesday as Governor Brian Kemp pledged not to impose a nationwide mask mandate or restrict business and public activities.

“Georgia will not suspend or impose nationwide mask mandates,” Kemp tweeted Wednesday, reiterating a stance that has remained consistent since the Republican lifted closures at the start of the pandemic.

For some school districts, however, Kemp’s attitude is of little importance. Other counties continued Wednesday that they would require students and staff to wear masks, with the proportion of students attending public schools in Georgia now over 30%, according to calculations by the Associated Press.

Almost 4,000 positive COVID-19 tests were reported by the state health department on Wednesday. A strong upward trend thus continued in the number of newly reported cases. The last time Georgia reported more than 4,000 cases was on February 11.

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The percentage of positive molecular tests was over 12% for the third day in a row, well above the 5% level that experts say most cases are detected.

The number of hospital patients also continued to rise. The number of confirmed COVID-19 patients rose nationwide from 1,501 on Tuesday to 1,674 on Wednesday. More than 10% of all patients hospitalized in Georgia for any reason now have COVID-19.

In rural hospital areas around Waycross and Dublin, the number of COVID-19 patients has increased more than twenty-fold since July 5th.

At least 15 school districts across the state have announced or confirmed new mask requirements, with Muscogee County being the last with 30,000 students as of Wednesday.

“This recommended additional level of protection is designed to encourage safe return to face-to-face tuition, help us do our part to further reduce the transmission of the virus in our community and maintain continuity of operations,” the district said in a message release. The Columbus-based district said it was following directions from a local advisory board, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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So far, a small fraction of Georgia’s 180 school districts require masks. But the districts that did this comprise six of the state’s 11 largest districts and represent more than 28% of all students in the country. A number of other counties have announced that they will tighten the mask’s optional stance, and more announcements could be made before next week, when most of the Georgia counties begin classes.

Kemp had sworn in May that “we will not have a mask mandate for our children,” but an ordinance he passed earlier this month failed to actually ban masks in schools. Instead, the governor said school districts could not cite Georgia’s state of emergency as a basis for masking requirements.

Savannah’s Mayor Van Johnson placed a partial mask mandate in the coast’s largest city on Monday.

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Kemp ended the public health state of emergency in late June, despite imposing other orders with a different emergency law.

On Wednesday, Kemp again focused on encouraging people to volunteer to get vaccinated. Georgia ranks among the top ten countries in terms of vaccination rates.

“My family, myself and other heads of state have all rolled up their sleeves and got their chance,” tweeted Kemp. “I encourage all Georgians who have concerns or questions to speak to a doctor and get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

The Atlanta-based CDC on Tuesday amended previous guidelines to recommend that even vaccinated individuals return to wearing masks indoors in areas with significant or high transmission. CDC numbers show 138 out of 159 Georgia counties in these zones. The CDC also recommended that everyone in schools wear masks indoors, which will hasten a change in local school policy.

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