ATLANTA (WSAV) – Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has held weekly briefings on COVID-19 but Tuesday’s press conference focused largely on protests for George Floyd happening in Atlanta and throughout the state.
“This is a deeply emotional time not only in Georgia but across America,” the governor said at the start of the briefing.
“Georgians are filled with fear, anger and righteous impatience,” Kemp continued. “I realize people are hurting and have more questions than answers right now.”
Flanked by maybe a dozen law enforcement officials, Kemp commended peaceful protests but condemned violent actions that “corrupted” what he called “a powerful movement.”
“Let me be clear: I am outraged,” he said, adding, “Violence and destruction is unacceptable.”
Kemp said his office will continue to deploy state law enforcement officials and the Georgia National Guard and “do whatever is necessary to keep the peace.”
He added that state agencies will be present in Brunswick on Thursday when Gregory and Travis McMichael, accused in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, are scheduled to appear for a court hearing.
“I support the right to peacefully protest, to honor the life of George Floyd and to demand action,” Kemp said. “We will not tolerate disruptive or dangerous behavior, including criminal conduct, and we will put the safety of our citizens first.”
As for the state’s COVID-19 response, the governor said there may be a temporary decline in testing as the National Guard assists in protest. He said they will return to aid in the pandemic “when the streets are safe.”
Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey said her agency is coordinating efforts to address the possible spread of COVID-19 due to large gatherings at protests.
She said “this situation is no different” than other events.
“When you have this many people gathered together in close proximity you run the risk of viral transmission. I think you add to that that individuals have come from out of state,” Toomey said of Atlanta and other locations. “We need to be very vigilant. We are proactively doing our analysis on our hotspots.”
The commissioner said DPH is reaching out to communities to provide testing to demonstrators. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has also been contacted in an effort to move forward with testing for Atlanta’s first responders that have worked during the protests.
“We encourage all law enforcement along with those that are participating in the demonstrations to get tested immediately,” Kemp said.
More than 300 arrests have been made since Friday when peaceful protests first turned violent.
“That being said, I still have hope that we can emerge from this stronger than ever before and more united than ever before,” Kemp said.