Democratic local officials in Georgia clashed with Republican Governor Brian Kemp on Thursday and accused the governor of playing politics a day after he banned localities from issuing mandates requiring residents to wear face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Kemp extended Georgia’s coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday but overruled local mask mandates, calling them “a bridge too far,” although he encouraged residents to wear face masks voluntarily. More than a dozen localities in Georgia have issued mask mandates.
“I am not afraid of the city being sued,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said at a Thursday press conference.
“It’s my belief that the city of Atlanta still has the appropriate standing to mandate masks,” Bottoms said. “Especially as it relates to buildings and places that we own and operate.”
Mayor Van Johnson of Savannah said he will continue to enforce his city’s mask mandate, which was implemented July 1, and that he will mount a legal challenge to Kemp’s order.
“On one hand we’re fighting Covid. On the other hand we’re fighting our governor,” Johnson said on MSNBC. “Our hands should be totally and unequivocally working to fight this virus, but unfortunately, for whatever reason, our governor has chosen and continuously chosen to make a public health emergency into some type of political issue.”
“Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us,” Kemp wrote on Twitter, adding that masks will continue to be made available for Savannah’s residents.
Mayor Kelly Girtz of Athens-Clarke County, which issued a local mask mandate earlier this month, also lamented the governor’s order.
“In Texas, in Alabama, you’ve got Republican governors understanding that the science has got to lead the way,” Girtz said. “Even if there were some reluctance earlier in this bizarre national environment that we’ve been in, at the end of the day we need to protect the health of the people who live here.”
In April, Kemp took one of the most aggressive approaches among governors to reopen his state’s economy, earning bipartisan criticism from both national and local officials for his early push to allow church services to resume and businesses to open, including gyms, salons, and restaurants.
Along with other southern and western states, Georgia has seen its coronavirus cases spike in recent weeks, reporting more than 131,000 total positive coronavirus cases as of Wednesday, including an increase of 3,441 new cases from the previous day. There were 50 deaths from the virus on Wednesday, bringing the total death count to 3,104. Hospitalizations also increased by 244 on Wednesday for a total of 14,346 hospitalizations in Georgia.