Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) on Wednesday explicitly banned cities and counties from adopting rules requiring masks or other face coverings.
The governor has called mandates to wear a mask “a bridge too far,” the Atlanta Journal- Constitution reported.
An earlier executive order, which was set to expire on Wednesday, had kept in place a months-long ban on local officials from taking more restrictive measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. But the new executive order Kemp issued on Wednesday “suspended” local requirements that require the use of masks or face coverings in efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The news came after Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) announced a statewide mask requirement to take effect on Thursday. Kemp’s move also falls out of step with decisions made by the likes of Walmart and Sam’s Club, who on Monday said they would require shoppers to begin wearing masks.
A string of Georgia cities had already started to require masks earlier this month defying Kemp’s earlier calls not to adopt more restrictive measures. Savannah’s mask mandate was quickly followed in cities like Atlanta, Athens and Augusta.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson (D) responded to the decision telling MSNBC on Thursday morning that he was “flabbergasted.”
“On one hand we’re fighting COVID on another hand we’re fighting our governor,” Johnson said. “Our hands should be totally and unequivocally working to fight this virus.”
The mayor added that as far as local officials in Savannah are concerned the city’s emergency declaration stands. “If you come into the city of Savannah — you’re in business with the city of Savannah — you will wear a mask. Period.”
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson on Georgia Gov. Kemp's new executive order banning cities and counties from mandating people to wear masks.
"Our governor has chosen … to make a public health emergency into some type of political issue." pic.twitter.com/FYjYxCTVud
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) July 16, 2020
Georgia reported 3,871 new infections on Wednesday, the second-highest daily count since the pandemic began. So far, 127,834 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Georgia — a number that more than doubles the infections reported in mid-June.
“We continue to watch the data and the numbers,” Kemp said earlier this week. “We’ve got to learn to deal with it, and we’re encouraging people to wear masks and follow the guidance that we have.”
Before the new executive order was issued on Wednesday, more than 1,400 health care workers had signed an open letter earlier this month calling on Kemp to mandate masks and to allow local governments to make their own rules aimed at cutting down the number of new infections, The Journal-Constitution said. The letter also made pleas for the governor to close bars and restaurants, and to ban indoor gatherings of more than 25 people. Dr. Harry J. Heiman, a clinical associate professor at Georgia State University School of Public Health said that although these measures are “basic,” the state hasn’t “come close to mastering them yet.” He added that in the absence of “aggressive action,” the outbreak in the state “is only going to get worse.”