Atlanta Mayor says he will sign an executive order requiring masks in Georgia’s largest city
ATLANTA – The Mayor of Atlanta says he will sign an executive order requiring masks in Georgia’s largest city on Wednesday, challenging Governor Brian Kemp’s decision to vigorously encourage but not require that they cover their faces.
Spokesman Michael Smith said Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms plans to sign an order that requires masks, which could set up a confrontation with Republican Kemp. The governor has recently clashed with the mayor over police matters, calling the National Guard to protect state government offices after an 8-year-old girl was shot dead by gunmen on the site of a fast-food restaurant. where an Atlanta police officer shot and killed a black man.
Like other local leaders in Georgia, Bottoms has unsuccessfully appealed to Kemp to change his order that local governments cannot exceed state requirements.
“Other cities have taken the approach that they are going to challenge the governor’s executive order. Savannah has done it, other cities have done it and Atlanta will do it today, ”Bottoms told MSNBC in an interview on Wednesday. “Because the fact is that COVID-19 is wreaking havoc in our cities, specifically in the black and brown communities with the highest death rates.”
Kemp spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday. Kemp asked county mayors and county commissioners Tuesday to help him in a state effort for voluntary masking.
“We don’t need a mandate for Georgians to do the right thing, but we do need to build strong public support,” Kemp told mayors, according to prepared comments issued by his office.
Bottoms announced Monday that it has tested positive for COVID-19. Joe Biden has been considering the Democrat as his fellow presidential vice president.
The dispute over the masks is intensifying as the state registers a large number of confirmed daily cases and people hospitalized with COVID-19. The number of people in hospitals rose to more than 2,200 on Wednesday, while confirmed infections rose by more than 3,400, bringing the state’s total to 104,000.
Officials across the state increasingly express concerns that hospitals are filling up and government-run test sites are being invaded.
Data released Wednesday showed that 82% of Georgia critical care beds are in use, although not all patients in a critical care bed have COVID-19. In three of the state’s 14 hospital regions, less than 6% of critical care beds were available, including the northwestern suburbs of Athens, Valdosta, and Atlanta.
In suburban DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, officials are moving to extend hours at test sites, saying there is more demand than they can fill.
Atlanta would not be the first Georgia location to require facial covers. Savannah and the East Point suburb of Atlanta joined Athens-Clarke County on Tuesday. At least three other Atlanta suburbs – Fairburn, South Fulton, and Doraville – are considering the move. DeKalb County Chief Executive Michael Thurmond said Tuesday that he believes a mask mandate in his large suburban county would leave police in a legally impossible position to go against state law, but at least one commissioner of the DeKalb County wants a vote on the matter anyway.
The Atlanta move could be more difficult for Kemp to ignore, with the State Capitol, the Governor’s Mansion and many central offices of state agencies within the city. State universities previously claimed that state property was exempt from the Savannah order of masks before they, too, decided to require masks. It is unclear whether Kemp and state agencies could make the same claim on state property in Atlanta.
John Ernst, the mayor of the Atlanta suburb of Brookhaven, said he agrees with others saying the police would have questionable legal authority to enforce a mask ban without Kemp’s permission.
“Everyone does not know what to do with this virus due to the hyperpolitical nature of what it has become,” he said.
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