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Georgia mayors to defy Kemp ban on mask mandates

Several Georgia mayors have lashed out over Gov. Brian Kemp’s (R) Wednesday order overriding local mandates requiring residents to wear a mask or face covering amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, vowing to continue enforcing local rules. 

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) said in a Thursday news conference that “it’s my belief that the city of Atlanta still has the appropriate standing to mandate masks,” specifically citing city-owned buildings and other areas.

"I believe that our city mask ordinance, and I believe those across the state, are defensible, and it is not just my posture but the posture of many mayors across this state that our policies are enforceable and they stand,” Bottoms said Thursday.

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Kemp’s office has called local mask mandates “unenforceable.” The governor’s Wednesday order voids local mandates and instead “strongly” encourages all residents and visitors to wear face coverings in public. 

When asked if she feared a lawsuit from the state, Bottoms, who announced that she tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month, said she was not concerned .

"You all know I love to quote Audre Lorde, she says 'I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.' So I am not afraid of the city being sued," Bottoms said Thursday. "And I'll put our policies up against anyone's any day of the week."

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson (D) also said that the Georgia city will continue to enforce a local rule to require masks or face coverings in public, despite Kemp’s order Wednesday. 

"I am not going to mince words," Johnson told reporters Thursday. "We believe that Gov. Kemp is overstepping his authority. With that said, our emergency declaration still stands."

"We will continue to follow the science," Johnson added. "We will continue to take care of Savannah. We will continue to provide masks, for free, to whoever wants them and needs them. We will continue to wear them. We will continue to mandate them. And we will continue to require them in our city."

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Johnson called out Kemp on Twitter on Wednesday night, sharing “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.”

Kemp’s Wednesday order will affect at least 15 mask mandates issued by local governments in the states, according to The Associated Press. 

Other Georgia mayors and area leaders also pushed back on the order Thursday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

“We strongly believe this is within our authority," Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz told the AP

"I have been in regular communication with mayors in several other Georgia cities with mask requirements, and we wish for our local requirements to remain in place," Girtz said. 

Georgia has documented 118,147 cases of COVID-19 and 3,030 fatalities. 

The Hill has reached out to Kemp’s office for comment.