Gov. Brian Kemp tapped a new emergency-management director for the state Tuesday shortly after extending for another two weeks health measures aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus in Georgia.
Capt. Chris Stallings, a former state trooper and most recently head of a state Department of Public Safety unit tasked with protecting top elected officials, steps in as director of the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA), effective immediately.
Stallings replaces outgoing GEMA Director Homer Bryson, who retired Tuesday after nearly four decades in public-safety roles including prior tenures overseeing the state’s prison system and wildlife rangers.
Bryson’s departure comes as the state continues grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, which through Monday had killed 5,633 Georgians and led to more than 240,000 positive cases.
As GEMA’s director, Bryson was tasked with leading the procurement and distribution of millions of masks, gloves, gowns, face shields and goggles sent to local hospitals, schools and elderly care facilities struggling to combat the virus.
Late Monday, Kemp renewed a long set of distancing and sanitizing requirements for Georgia businesses, daycare centers, social gatherings and other pursuits that have remained largely unchanged in recent months after the governor began relaxing far stricter measures in late April.
The governor’s renewed executive orders also extended a shelter-in-place mandate for persons in elderly care facilities and those with chronic health issues through Sept. 15.
Going forward, Kemp also extended Georgia’s public health state of emergency through Oct. 10, which gives him authority to continue issuing executive orders unless the General Assembly convenes to strip that power from him.
At a news conference Tuesday, Kemp praised the work of Bryson and GEMA officials since the pandemic took hold in the state in March.
“These men and women have played a huge role in the fight to protect lives and livelihoods in our state, and we are forever grateful for their service,” Kemp said.
The governor also touted the new GEMA director, Stallings, saying he had “full confidence in Chris and his ability to run GEMA with the integrity and hard work that this job demands” as well as take the reins from Bryson amid the ongoing pandemic.
Bryson, who also helped lead the state’s disaster response in the wake of Hurricane Michael in 2018, called the GEMA director role “the crowning jewel in my career.”
“Our passion is truly protecting people and protecting property,” Bryson said. “That’s our priority. We put that ahead of everything else.”