Story at a glance
- Gov. Brian Kemp has refused to mandate face masks and flown in the face of other recommendations from public health experts.
- The state has seen a recent surge in new coronavirus cases, which are disproportionately affecting the Black community.
- Local officials are now issuing mandates for residents to wear face masks in public.
In the face of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s refusal to mandate face masks, the mayors of three major cities are doing so themselves.
Savannah became the first city to require its residents to wear masks in public last week, followed by Athens-Clarke County and now the state’s capital. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms called out the state's governor by name in her announcement on Wednesday.
“Other cities have taken the approach that they are going to defy the governor’s executive order. Savannah has done it, some other cities have done it, and Atlanta is going to do it today, because the fact of the matter is that COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on our city, specifically black and brown communities with higher death rates,” she said, adding that the governor had called in the National Guard without conferring with her.
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The state was the first to reopen in late April, but didn't see an immediate spike in cases, unlike neighboring Florida. But case counts began trending upward and surged throughout June, surpassing 100,000 cases in early July.
And while data on race and ethnicity has been delayed, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis revealed that Black people made up about half of all coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths through June 30, despite making up about a third of the total population. ‘
Still, the state's Republican governor has kept in pace with others in his party holding out against advice from public health experts to implement basic preventive measures. Kemp has been traveling around the state asking people to wear masks, but maintains that, "We shouldn’t need a mask mandate for people to do the right thing.”
Earlier this month, he told The Associated Press (AP) that he had not discussed with his legal team whether the state would take legal action against local governments that did impose mask requirements. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Kemp urged local officials on a conference call not to mandate face coverings and to instead encourage residents to voluntarily don coverings.
“I realize that many on this call have different opinions on the appropriate response to this pandemic – and that’s fine. But we all agree that masks are good and can help stop the spread,” Kemp said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We all know that social distancing makes it hard for the virus to travel. We agree that handwashing can limit exposure. So instead of mandates, I’m asking you to join me in raising awareness.”
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