Georgia bars local governments from enacting mask, vaccine mandates

Local governments in Georgia will be barred from enacting mask or vaccine mandates for businesses under an executive order signed Thursday by Gov. Brian KempBrian KempGeorgia faculty members to require masks in classrooms Republican politicians: Let OSHA do its job Dozens of Republican governors call for meeting with Biden on border surge MORE (R).

Kemp said the order is necessary to "protect" private businesses. 

It comes as some local officials have taken new steps to try to contain the state's rising COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, brought on by the delta variant and the large number of people who have not been vaccinated.

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"There are some across our state who want to go back into lockdown mode," Kemp said during a press conference, specifically mentioning Atlanta and Savannah, which both have indoor mask requirements. 

Under the executive order, private businesses will be able to require masks or vaccines if they choose, but local officials will not be able to mandate them.

"Local governments will not be able to force businesses to be the city's mask police, the vaccine police, or any other burdensome restriction,” Kemp said.  

The governor has long opposed statewide mandates and initially tried to bar local mask mandates last summer. He eventually eased his order to allow cities and counties to impose limited rules.

Georgia is among the states with the lowest vaccination rate in the country, less than 50 percent of its total population. Kemp has urged Georgians to consult with their most trusted medical professional about getting vaccinated. 

Even against the delta variant that's responsible for almost every new infection in the U.S., the available vaccines are at least 90 percent effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death. 

Georgia is reporting 4,900 COVID-19 patients in the hospital, which is already more than its previous surge and close to the peak from January. Statewide, 89 percent of intensive care unit beds are occupied.