Georgia Governor Says Local Governments Can’t Pass Mask Mandates

( As states around the country are considering, or have imposed, mandates on wearing masks outdoors, one governor is doing the opposite — protecting people’s right to choice.

On Wednesday, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed an executive order that outright bans cities from creating their own mandates for people to wear masks. The order overturns current mask mandates in more than 12 counties and cities throughout Georgia.

While he banned the mandate of mask wearing, Kemp’s order “strongly encourages” their usage. The order also extends other social-distancing measures across the state.

Kemp’s decision is in direct contrast to a lot of the leaders in local communities in Georgia, as well as other Republican governors throughout the country. As coronavirus cases are soaring, governors are doing everything they can to stop the spread — and that has included mandates on wearing masks in public when people can’t social distance.

On Wednesday, Georgia recorded 3,871 new coronavirus cases — the second-highest single-day number — and 37 deaths.

Van Johnson, the Democratic mayor of Savannah who was the first in the state to issue a mandate on masks, was not happy with Kemp’s decision. He tweeted:

“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 science. Masks will continue to be available!”

In neighboring Alabama, Republican Governor Kay Ivey did the exact opposite of what Kemp did Wednesday. While she said she wished people didn’t “have to be ordered to do what is in your own best interest,” she felt she no longer had a choice but to issue a mandate on wearing masks.

At a news conference, she said:

“We’re almost to the point where our hospital ICUs are overwhelmed. Folks, the numbers just do not lie.”

Other Republican governors such as Doug Ducey in Arizona and Greg Abbott in Texas originally blocked local governments from issuing mask mandates of their own. However, as the spread of coronavirus in their states ramped up significantly, both have backed off those efforts and let the local mandates remain.

Kemp’s critics have pounced on the attack since the announcement of his executive order. Democrat Stacey Abrams, who lost the 2018 gubernatorial election to Kemp, said:

“What he continues to do is downplay not only the challenge to Georgians, but the deaths of Georgians. More than 3,000 Georgians have perished, disproportionately black and brown Georgians. And he continues to fiddle while Rome burns.”

But the governor’s office defended Kemp’s decision, saying he has continually suggested that masks should be worn.

The governor’s communications director, Candice Broce, said:

“We’ve been clear in previous orders and statements that local mask mandates are unenforceable. The governor has encouraged Georgians to wear them voluntarily for months now.”

The continued push against a mask mandate is likely to widen the rift between Kemp and the Democratic mayors of cities around the state.