Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order on Wednesday night declaring that any local government’s rules or regulations mandating masks or facial coverings were null and void.
The order affects more than a dozen city and county governments that had mandated wearing of masks in public to stop the spread of coronavirus in their localities.
In spite of the ban on cities and counties to create their own regulations, the Republican governor encouraged residents of his state to wear masks on a voluntary basis.
After the order was issued, a spokesperson for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms insisted that the mask mandate in the city was still in place.
“The mayor’s order remains in effect, as science and data will continue to drive the city’s decisions. Masks save lives,” spokesperson Michael Smith said.
Other leaders from around the state expressed outrage at Kemp’s order, decrying it as out of step with the prevailing scientific views on the efficacy of mask-wearing in order to stop COVID-19 from spreading.
“It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said on Twitter after the order was issued. “Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can.”
Johnson added that the city would make masks available for residents if they needed them.
Russell Edwards, the mayor pro tempore of Athens, Georgia, Kemp’s hometown, called on the governor to resign over his leadership during the pandemic. “Words fail to describe this monstrous behavior,” Edwards said of the executive order.
Stacey Abrams, who faced-off against Kemp in the 2018 gubernatorial race, spoke out against the order as well.
“What he continues to do is downplay not only the challenge to Georgians, but the deaths of Georgians,” Abrams said on MSNBC. “More than 3,000 Georgians have perished, disproportionately black and brown Georgians. And he continues to fiddle while Rome burns.”
Georgia was among the first states in the country to reopen, and began the process of easing social distancing restrictions on businesses on April 24, just weeks after Kemp issued state-at-home orders. Presently, the state has reported more than 118,147 cumulative cases of the disease, making it the state with the eighth-highest number of total cases counted in the U.S.
Georgia also has seen a spike in new cases. On July 10, the state reported its highest single-day number of positive tests, with 4,904 Georgians contracting the disease. Currently, around 3,087 new cases are being reported daily, on average, based on figures from the past seven days.
A number of studies have found that masks or facial coverings help in significant ways to stop the spread of coronavirus. At Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, for example, the positivity rate of hospital workers being diagnosed with COVID-19 dropped by 58 percent after a mask mandate was enforced.
CDC director Robert Redfield recently encouraged all Americans to wear coverings when they were out in public.
“Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus — particularly when used universally within a community setting,” he said in a statement earlier this week. “All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families and their communities.”