Faced with a surge in positive COVID-19 cases across the South and Midwest, on July 8, Keisha Lance Bottoms (D-GA), the mayor of Atlanta, issued an executive order requiring all individuals to wear masks in public areas and banning gatherings of over 10 people. In an effort to rebuke this measure, Governor Brian Kemp (R-GA) issued an order rescinding cities’ mask requirements, and on Thursday sued the Atlanta City Council and Bottoms.
In her executive order, Bottoms cited the guidance of public health officials as well as her administration’s commitment to “slowing the spread of COVID-19 infections in Atlanta.” Bottoms joins the leaders of various cities nationwide who have sought to implement measures to protect citizens, including healthcare and frontline workers.
As of this week, Georgia has faced more than 3,000 deaths due to COVID-19 and has reported more than 100,000 positive tests. According to a recent tweet, Bottoms and her family are among those who have tested positive. This fact, in conjunction with the surge in cases in Georgia and recent CDC guidance that the virus can be controlled in four to eight weeks if all Americans wear masks in public, motivated Bottoms’ order.
Citing his “chief executive powers,” Kemp’s lawsuit states that the governor has the authority to “suspend municipal orders that are contradictory to any state law.” The Governor specifically referenced Bottoms’ recent order, arguing that Bottoms does not have the “legal authority to modify, change, or ignore” a statewide executive order. Kemp’s administration also defended his actions by claiming such actions are meant to protect struggling business owners and employees.
Kemp’s lawsuit was met with immediate pushback from Bottoms, who refuted Kemp’s claims and argued that Atlanta’s mask policies “are enforceable and they stand.” In a statement, Bottoms said, “If being sued by the state is what it takes to save lives in Atlanta, then we will see them in court.” Bottoms also called upon Kemp and the state of Georgia to take action and adhere to public health experts’ guidance to control the spread of the virus.
Although the CDC is nonpartisan, mask mandates have become the subject of fierce partisan debates nationwide. With his executive order, Kemp joins a handful of Republican elected officials who have similarly resisted issuing requirements on the matter. Most recently, Governor Kevin Stitt (R-OK) publicly acknowledged his refusal to implement a mask mandate, despite becoming the first governor to test positive for COVID-19.
Georgia joins over 40 other states where cases have surged in recent weeks. On Thursday, the United States reported a record 77,000 new cases in one day. In spite of Kemp’s order, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr released a statement “urging citizens to wear masks.”
Sources: City of Atlanta 7/8/2020; NPR 7/16/2020; NBC News 7/17/2020; USA Today 7/17/2020; Twitter 7/16/2020; Reuters 7/14/2020; Superior Court of Fulton County 7/13/2020; CNN Politics 7/15/2020; AP News 7/16/2020