ATLANTA, Ga. (CW69 News at 10/CNN) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday suspended all local government mask requirements despite the rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in his state and is “strongly” encouraging all Georgians to wear masks instead.
Kemp’s executive order voids masks mandates imposed by some local governments as COVID-19 cases tick up in cities across the state, already claiming over 3,000 lives.
GOP Gov. Brian Kemp is banning Georgia's cities and counties from ordering people to wear masks in public places, even as a growing number of other states are mandating masks. Kemp has instead been trying to encourage voluntary mask-wearing,https://t.co/3XoEJFcV1z
— The Associated Press (@AP) July 16, 2020
Even as Kemp has been resistant to a statewide mask mandate for Georgia, other Republican governors are now requiring face coverings in their states.
Kemp’s previous executive orders prohibited local action from being more restrictive than the state’s requirements — but Wednesday’s order specially mentioned facial covering and mask mandates.
The mayor of Savannah, who signed a mask mandate for the city, fired back at Kemp’s decision.
“It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us,” Mayor Van Johnson wrote on Twitter Wednesday. “Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can.”
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
Savannah residents, beginning July 1, were required to wear a face covering in public or face a fine of up to $500.
In a CNN interview earlier this month, Johnson said because the city was hitting new daily records for coronavirus cases, “it was really necessary for us to take more drastic action to protect our city.”
He told CNN that the city would offer masks to offenders before giving them a citation.
After Kemp’s order was issued, Johnson said on Wednesday that Savannah would continue to “follow the science” and still have masks available for residents.
Kemp has also been at odds with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms about her mandatory mask ordinance. Under the mayor’s order, not wearing a mask within Atlanta’s city limits was punishable by a fine and even up to six months in jail.
The governor’s office had argued that Bottom’s order is not “legally enforceable,” pointing to Kemp’s executive order limiting local action to being less restrictive than state measures.
The mayor of Dunwoody, whose city council approved a mask mandate that was set to start Thursday, said small businesses had asked the city to require masks because employees worried about being exposed. The city sits in one of the top five counties in Georgia with the highest number of confirmed cases.
You know who is caught in the battle between the Georgia Governor and Local governments? Grocery store clerks, retail workers, and restaurant servers In other words, just the folks who aren't likely to have health insurance and paid time off.
— Lynn Deutsch (@lynndeutsch) July 16, 2020
Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, Kemp’s rival in the 2018 gubernatorial race, argued on MSNBC that Kemp is “following the lead of the incompetency and the immorality” of President Donald Trump.
“From the beginning of this catastrophe, Brian Kemp has demonstrated that he has absolutely no competency in this process,” Abrams said Wednesday.
Kemp has encouraged Georgians to wear a mask, and has worn one in public himself, but argues against requiring them for all residents.
“We don’t need a mandate for people to do the right thing,” Kemp told reporters earlier this month.
With the uptick in cases, a growing number of US states have mandated the use of masks and face coverings while in public.
Republican Gov. Kay Ivey of the neighboring state of Alabama on Wednesday mandated face coverings in public through July as COVID-19 cases soar in the state and hospitals report record number of patients.
“I still believe this is going to be a difficult order to enforce, and I always prefer personal responsibility over a government mandate,” Ivey said at a Wednesday press conference. “Yet I also know, with all my heart, that the numbers and data the past few weeks are definitely trending in the wrong direction.”
Kemp has faced criticism from Democrats in his state for his handling of the state’s coronavirus response. He was among the last governors to sign a shelter-in-place order and one of the first governors to allow some businesses to open their doors after the shutdown.
©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN contributed to the story.