Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp issued an executive order Wednesday night, explicitly banned cities and counties in the state from issuing mask orders to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
What We Know:
- On Wednesday Kemp extended several public health provisions like limiting gatherings and enforcing health guidelines for restaurants until the end of July. However, the governor’s order also prohibited cities and counties from issuing requirements that masks, face shields, or any other kind of personal protective equipment must be worn in public.
“Any state, county, or municipal law, order, ordinance, rule, or regulation that requires persons to wear face coverings, masks, face shields, or any other Personal Protective Equipment while in places of public accommodation or on public property are suspended,” as written in the executive order.
- The governor’s coronavirus orders have for months banned local governments from taking more restrictive or lenient steps than the state, but the new set of rules specified for the first time that cities and counties can’t require the use of masks or other face coverings. The move voided mask mandates in 15 local jurisdictions throughout Georgia where they had been implemented, including major cities like Atlanta and Savannah.
- Coronavirus cases in Georgia have continued to surge after beginning to rise dramatically late last month. There were 3,871 new confirmed cases reported on Wednesday, bringing total cases to 127,834. The state also reported 37 new deaths, with 3,091 deaths since the pandemic began. More than 14,000 people had been hospitalized with COVID-19, over 2,700 of those in intensive care.
- Kemp has refused to issue a statewide mask mandate despite the surge in cases and a scientific consensus that masks are effective in reducing transmission. Kemp instead “strongly encourages” residents to wear masks, although there is no requirement to do so and many have refused. The governor has also resisted calls to roll back reopening plans in light of the surge, including attempts to tighten public health measures pertaining to restaurants and bars, instead, defending his looser restrictions as “common sense.”
- Some officials who had attempted to prevent the outbreak by issuing mask requirements reacted to Kemp’s new order with outrage. Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, who had been the first official to issue a mask order in the state, took to Twitter to condemn the governor’s order. Johnson also said the city will continue to require masks despite Kemp’s order.
It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us. Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can.
In #Savannah, we will continue to keep the faith and follow the science. Masks will continue to be available!
— Mayor Van Johnson (@MayorJohnsonSAV) July 16, 2020
- Last week, Democratic Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta instituted a mandatory mask order but was met with harsh criticism from Kemp over the mandate. “Like all of the local mask mandates, Mayor Bottoms’ order is unenforceable,” Kemp spokeswoman Candice Broce said. “We continue to encourage Georgians to do the right thing and wear a mask voluntarily. If the Mayor wants to flatten the curve in Atlanta, she should start enforcing the current provisions of the Governor’s orders.” Bottoms’ mask requirement is now void under Kemp’s executive order.
- Hours before Kemp took action, his Republican counterpart in Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey, announced a statewide mask requirement that will take effect Thursday. Similarly, Walmart and Sam’s Club said they would require shoppers to begin wearing masks on Monday.
Georgia’s state of emergency due to the virus is currently slated to extend until August 11, while existing public health restrictions could expire on August 1.