Governor extends Georgia coronavirus restrictions, including ban on mask mandates

Bottoms reached out to Kemp last week to initiate settlement negotiations and the governor canceled a request for an emergency hearing. But officials said talks between the two sides haven’t gained traction since a court-ordered mediation session on Monday.

The mayor has said she’s prepared to defend her measures in court, and she’s drawn the support of several outside groups that have accused Kemp of “usurping” local rights. Kemp, meanwhile, contends that mask requirements adopted by Atlanta and a dozen other communities are unenforceable and unwarranted.

“While government plays an important role in fighting this pandemic,” Kemp said Friday, “the people of our great state will ultimately be the ones who defeat this virus.”

Kemp was under pressure to impose stiffer restrictions to stem the spread of the disease. Since he signed his last order into effect two weeks ago, Georgia has set records for daily confirmed cases of the disease, the hospitalization rate has soared and federal health officials urged the state to impose new restrictions.

A doorman checks customers' temperatures as they wait in line to enter the Sandbar in downtown Athens.. The Athens-Clarke Commission approved a mandate on wearing masks when in public places and inside commercial establishments. The mandate went into effect on July 9. Under the mandate, masks are required to be worn while entering and inside commercial establishments. Masks are not required while drinking, eating or smoking. It's meant to stop the spread of COVID-19 but runs counter to restrictions Gov. Brian Kemp put in place barring local governments from instituting regulations either stronger or weaker than his own executive orders on the virus. (Joshua L. Jones/Athens Banner-Herald via AP)

A doorman checks customers’ temperatures as they wait in line to enter the Sandbar in downtown Athens.. The Athens-Clarke Commission approved a mandate on wearing masks when in public places and inside commercial establishments. The mandate went into effect on July 9. Under the mandate, masks are required to be worn while entering and inside commercial establishments. Masks are not required while drinking, eating or smoking. It’s meant to stop the spread of COVID-19 but runs counter to restrictions Gov. Brian Kemp put in place barring local governments from instituting regulations either stronger or weaker than his own executive orders on the virus. (Joshua L. Jones/Athens Banner-Herald via AP)

Credit: Joshua L. Jones

Credit: Joshua L. Jones

More than 180,000 Georgians have contracted the disease, and state data shows nearly 90% of critical care beds are now in use, with some regions showing just a handful of units available. Earlier on Friday, Kemp announced that a makeshift medical facility will open next week at the Georgia World Congress Center to reduce the stress on the health care network.

But the governor has said new restrictions were unnecessary, and instead, he called on local officials to enforce rules in his order that guide how restaurants operate.

He has strongly opposed a return to the strict statewide coronavirus rules in force through much of April, when personal care businesses such as nail salons and barbershops were shuttered and restaurants were barred from allowing dine-in service.

Kemp became one of the first state leaders to roll back economic restrictions in late April, temporarily drawing the wrath of President Donald Trump, and he has until recently steadily eased limits. In fact, Kemp’s last few statewide orders were notable in part because they held the line on many rules rather than continuing a trend of easing them.

The Republican has faced repeated calls from public health officials and other critics who demand that he take more proactive measures. Some point toward a handful of GOP governors who have either imposed mask mandates or given leeway to local governments to institute their own restrictions.

In Georgia, many local officials are already going their own way. Since Savannah became the first Georgia city to institute a mask requirement in June, several cities and suburbs have followed suit. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution review showed the rules are rarely, if ever, enforced.

Meanwhile, a new federal report lists Georgia among 21 states in the “red zone” due to a rising number of coronavirus cases. The report obtained by The New York Times recommends that Georgia officials impose a statewide mask mandate, close bars and nightclubs, and limit indoor dining.

Trump and other White House figures, however, have endorsed Kemp’s approach. The president has called for more states to reopen their economies, and Vice President Mike Pence, who visited the state twice in a week in May, has hailed Georgia as a model.

About the Author

ajc.com