The Slatest

Georgia’s Republican Governor Goes All-In, Bans Cities From Requiring Masks in Public

Kemp, with a surgical mask dangling under his chin, gives a thumbs-up to Trump
Gov. Brian Kemp greets President Donald Trump at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta on Wednesday. Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has officially gone all-in on a magical thinking, laissez-faire response to the coronavirus. The Republican governor was slow to shut down daily life in his state during the early days of the pandemic and then, just weeks later, first in line to open back up despite ominous signs that doing so would result in exactly what’s happening now—a spike in cases. On Wednesday, the state reported its second-highest daily total of cases so far. No matter—on Wednesday night, Kemp, despite taking steps that acknowledged the state is falling behind in its effort to contain the virus, banned cities and counties in the state from implementing mask requirements of their own. The order “strongly encourages” mask use, but Kemp has called requiring face coverings in public “a bridge too far.” Meanwhile, national chains and big-box stores from Walmart to Kroger will require masks to be worn in their stores.

Kemp’s order effectively negates more than a dozen local jurisdictions that have gone beyond state regulations to require masks in certain public settings. Last week, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued an executive order requiring masks, as has Savannah, Athens, and Augusta.* “It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us,” Savannah’s Democratic mayor, Van Johnson, who issued the state’s first mask requirement, tweeted. “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!”

Kemp’s order comes as neighboring Alabama, the Trumpiest state in the union, relented to the reality that things are getting worse, fast, and required face coverings in public spaces. “You shouldn’t have to be ordered to do what is in your own best interest, and in the best interest of those you know and love,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said Wednesday. “I still believe this is going to be a difficult order to enforce. And I always prefer a personal responsibility over a government mandate. Yet, I also know, with all of my heart, that the numbers and the data over the past few weeks are definitely trending in the wrong direction.”

“More than 20 other states have mask mandates, including California, Maryland, New York and Virginia,” the Washington Post notes. “Some states, such as Ohio and Texas, require masks only in counties where coronavirus infection rates have hit a high level.”

Correction, July 16, 2020: This post originally misspelled Keisha Lance Bottoms’ last name.

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