Georgia governor Brian Kemp issued an executive order Wednesday overruling mask mandates put in place by local governments in the state to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, calling such rules “unenforceable.”
Kemp’s order, which extended the state’s COVID-19 restrictions through July 31, prohibits local municipalities from enforcing mandatory mask orders that are more restrictive than his statewide order that only encourages face coverings, effectively voiding orders issued by at least 15 local governments across the state, NPR reported.
His previous order, set to expire on Wednesday, had banned local municipalities from taking more restrictive steps than the state, but the new order explicitly prohibits cities and counties from requiring masks.
Atlanta, Savannah, Athens, Augusta and other local governments had defied orders and issued their own mask mandates in recent weeks. Kemp’s office insisted that such orders are “non-binding and legally unenforceable.”
The Republican governor has “strongly encouraged” residents and visitors to “wear coverings as practicable” insisting that mask mandates are “unenforceable” and “a bridge too far.”
“Previous executive orders – and now this order – state no local action can be more or less restrictive than ours,” Candice Broce, a spokesperson for the governor, tweeted. “We have explained that local mask mandates are unenforceable. The Governor continues to strongly encourage Georgians to wear masks in public.”
Georgia reported its second highest new coronavirus case count on Wednesday, with 3,871 new confirmed cases and 37 deaths, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Half of all new cases are being reported in Atlanta.
Kemp’s new order requires vulnerable residents, including the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, to shelter in place. It also restricts public gatherings to no more than 50 people and requires businesses to maintain social distancing precautions.
Georgia’s move comes as more and more states issue mask mandates, including Alabama, where Republican governor Kay Ivey instituted such a rule on Wednesday. Walmart, Starbucks and Best Buy are among a growing number of large chains that have announced they will require masks in stores nationwide.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, who had been the first local official to shirk Kemp’s previous rules on mask mandates, tweeted his criticism of the governor Wednesday, saying “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,” he said. “In #Savannah, we will continue to keep the faith and follow the science. Masks will continue to be available!”