Georgia unmasked? Governor Brian Kemp cancels local mask orders for 1.4 million residents
Despite a growing number of coronavirus cases in Georgia, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp issued an executive order on Wednesday that struck down the face mask warrants of at least 15 local governments in his state. The move follows an earlier executive decree from Kemp dictating that local governments did not have the power to demand masks.
Kemp’s move, met immediately with frustration and ridicule, comes at the same time as a growing number of states have implemented statewide mask mandates. It also once again puts Georgia in the national spotlight, drawing attention to how the controversial Georgia governor continued to chart his own, often inexplicable, course in the early months of the pandemic.
Kemp’s order, which came the same day President Trump visited Atlanta to tout his national infrastructure plans, will affect more than 1.4 million Georgian citizens who had been covered by mask orders recently implemented localities. Mandatory mask requirements had previously been implemented by leaders in the cities and counties of Atlanta, Athens, Augusta, Rome and Savannah, in response to what many saw as slow action. at the state level.
On Wednesday night, the reaction to Kemp’s announcement ranged from anger to disbelief. For example, the mayor of Savannah, Van Johnson, tweeted a fierce criticism of Kemp.
“It’s officially official. Governor Kemp is kidding us. Each man and woman for himself. Ignore the science and survive as best you can. In #Savannah, we will continue to keep the faith and follow the science. Masks will continue to be available!
Kemp’s most recent decision is the latest in a string of questionable appeals about how the governor has handled his state’s response to the pandemic. Georgia, one of the last states in the country to impose a statewide shelter-in-place order at the start of the pandemic, was also one of the first states to reopen in April. Kemp’s decision to reopen the state at the time was ridiculed by many when he prioritized tattoo parlors, bowling allies, and nail salon establishments among the first businesses that could reopen.
Kemp has also been criticized for clashes with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who has taken aggressive action to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the subway in Atlanta, the state’s largest city. Bottoms signed a city-wide executive order last Wednesday requiring city residents to wear face masks, an order Kemp immediately rejected.
What makes Kemp’s decision on Wednesday all the more perplexing is that Georgia, like many states, is seeing an increase in coronavirus cases. Georgia reported 3,871 new cases and 37 deaths on Wednesday, bringing its total number of confirmed cases to 127,834 and 3,091 deaths. Wednesday’s case count was the second-highest daily count in the state, and came under plans to open additional field hospitals, as hospital capacity and intensive care beds across the state is starting to be stretched. The announcement also came on the same day, neighboring Alabama announced a statewide mask warrant.
So what exactly is the governor of Georgia thinking about making such a seemingly regressive decision? As a close ally of President Trump, Kemp has been very focused on reopening the state and working to build confidence in the resumption of economic activity. There is no doubt that the president’s repeated calls to do the same may have influenced the governor’s decision, particularly on the very day Trump visited Kemp state. But for a conservative politician who has claimed to be a supporter of local rule, especially on issues such as education and other community-driven decisions, the governor’s approach to overthrowing local rule seems both inconsistent and contradictory. Which only makes the Governor’s most recent order even more confusing.
As the pandemic continues to accelerate, most of the country’s leaders, including a large number of Republican governors, have embraced the need to implement more, not less, face mask requirements. But in rescinding local requirements for masks, the governor of Georgia has apparently chosen to rely more on wishful thinking than on the ideas of his state’s local leaders. In doing so, Kemp is heading in a different direction than many Republican leaders, business owners, and the majority of Americans when it comes to masks …