ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s Gov. Brian Kemp is explicitly banning Georgia’s cities and counties from ordering people to wear masks in public places. He voided orders on Wednesday that at least 15 local governments across the state had adopted even though Kemp had earlier said cities and counties had no power to order masks.
An increasing number of other states order residents to wear masks in public, including Alabama, which announced such a ban Wednesday.
The Republican governor has instead been trying to encourage voluntary mask wearing, including telling fans that reduced infections from mask-wearing would make college football season possible.
Kemp’s move is likely to infuriate local officials in communities that had acted, including Atlanta, Augusta, Savannah, Rome and the governor’s hometown of Athens-Clarke County. Overall, mask orders by Wednesday were covering 1.4 million of Georgia’s more than 10 million residents.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson was the first local official to defy Kemp and order masks, and had said police would start writing $500 citations to businesses that didn’t enforce the law.
“It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us,” Johnson wrote on Twitter Wednesday night. “Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can.”
Kemp’s new order also bans local governments from requiring masks on public property, which void requirements that some governments have imposed for citizens to wear masks inside city and county buildings.
Kemp was among the first governors to ease earlier restrictions, and while infections declined for weeks afterwards, they began to rise in June. Wednesday’s numbers showed nearly 2,800 people hospitalized statewide with the COVID-19 respiratory illness, the highest on record and a number that’s nearly doubled since the beginning of the month. The state reports 84% of hospitals’ available critical beds are in use, although some hospitals say they have opened up more space and have more room.
Georgia overall had nearly 128,000 confirmed infections and nearly 3,100 deaths overall as of Wednesday, although experts say many more people get the illness but are never tested. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. Most recover, but some can become severely ill or die.