People in Athens are still required to wear a mask inside businesses and other public places despite Gov. Brian Kemp’s order overturning local laws mandating face coverings, Mayor Kelly Girtz said Thursday.
“We still have a local ordinance in place, and we are not going to rescind it,” Girtz said.
Kemp renewed an executive order Wednesday keeping pandemic-related restrictions on restaurants and other businesses in place for at least another two weeks. He did not issue a statewide mask mandate, as many health care workers had called on him to do, and also specifically prohibited cities and counties from enacting or enforcing mask ordinances like the one the Athens-Clarke County Commission passed earlier this month. Kemp’s office sued the City of Atlanta on Thursday seeking to block its mask ordinance.
Since the law took effect July 9, ACC hasn’t issued any fines for violating it, Girtz said. Instead, police and code enforcement officers are carrying masks with them to hand out to violators. Girtz said officers will continue to educate people and seek voluntary compliance rather than hand out tickets.
Girtz said he’s spoken to ACC attorneys, as well as other Georgia mayors, about local mask mandates, and is confident they’ll hold up in court. “We believe we have every right to do that as local governments,” he said.
He said he’s “frustrated” with Kemp’s “ad hoc” approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that health outcomes should be driving policy. “Instead, it’s been like pulling a rabbit out of a hat,” he said.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson was more blunt, tweeting: “Governor Kemp doesn’t give a damn about us.” Savannah was the first city in Georgia to pass a mask ordinance, preceding Athens’ by a week. Others quickly followed suit.
On the same day that Kemp took aim at local mask ordinances, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statewide order requiring masks in indoor public places. At least 25 states have some type of mask law—including several, like Ohio and Texas, that are run by Republicans—and in many states that don’t, cities and counties have issued their own requirements.
In addition, several major retail chains—including Walmart, Kroger, Target and CVS—have announced in recent days that they’ll start requiring masks inside their stores. Many smaller retailers also asked Girtz to pass the local mask ordinance to level the playing field among small businesses, the mayor said.
“They’re concerned for the health of their employees,” as well as about liability issues, he said.
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