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Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has signed an executive order overruling local mask requirements from more than 15 local governments, as the state’s coronavirus cases continue to pile up.
Officials in several of Georgia’s largest cities, including Atlanta, Augusta, Savannah, and Athens have issued executive orders or passed ordinances mandating masks since June. The 41-page order executive order Kemp signed late Wednesday says that Georgians are “strongly encouraged to wear face coverings as practicable,” but makes clear that any local ordinances or orders requiring face coverings “are suspended to the extent that they are more restrictive than this executive order."
Kemp also extended a previous order banning gatherings of more than 50 people.
At least one of the mayors whose orders were overruled was furious at the decision. “It is officially official,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson tweeted. “Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us.”
Kemp’s order came on the same day that Georgia reported 3,871 new cases of coronavirus, its second-highest number of new cases in a single day since the pandemic began. Overall, the state has seen more than 127,000 positive cases and nearly 3,100 deaths, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
This isn’t Kemp’s first clash with local governments over pandemic response: in early April he signed an executive order that actually loosened some restrictions that had been put into place by local governments. Georgia was also the earliest state in the country to begin rolling back its shutdown on April 24, a move that even President Donald Trump criticized at the time. (Trump later walked back his criticism, sort of.)
The U.S. as a whole has tallied more than 3.5 million cases since the pandemic began, registering more than 67,000 new cases on Wednesday alone. New cases have risen in 41 states over the past two weeks, and been on the decline in just two, Delaware and Maine, according to the Guardian.
While Kemp loosened Georgia’s restrictions on Wednesday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a fellow Republican, issued an executive order of her own, requiring Alabamans to wear masks in public. While saying she prefers “personal responsibility over a government mandate,” Ivey pointed to the deteriorating number of available ICU beds as proof that action was needed.
“We’re almost to the point where our hospital ICUs are overwhelmed,” Ivey said Wednesday. “Folks, the numbers just do not lie.”
Cover: In this April 16, 2020, file photo, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp listens to a question from the press during a tour of a temporary hospital at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Ron Harris, Pool, File)