As COVID-19 Cases Rise, Metro Atlanta Leaders Mixed On Requiring Masks

WABE asked metro Atlanta officials about their stance on face masks and, if they had the authority, would they require their residents to wear masks in public.

Mary Altaffer / Associated Press file

Updated Thursday at 4:26 p.m.

As COVID-19 cases increase in Georgia, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said he is requiring residents to wear masks in public.

“Frankly and honestly, I do not believe that we have any other choice,” the mayor said during a press conference Tuesday.

The mandate goes against Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive orders, which don’t allow local governments to supersede the state’s requirements. Kemp is in the midst of a statewide tour to encourage Georgians to wear masks. However, he has stopped short of requiring masks in public, saying at a press conference Wednesday that the step is “a bridge too far.”

As cases continue to rise, we asked metro Atlanta officials their stance on requiring masks. The question to leaders was: If your city/county had the authority, would you require residents to wear masks in public?

Some leaders said they would encourage masks in public, which Kemp is already doing with his statewide campaign.

Here are some responses so far: 

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: Would encourage

COVID-19 remains a significant threat to Atlanta — particularly in communities of color and with underlying health conditions. The rise in cases among young people is particularly alarming. While state orders and law supersede any at the local level, I strongly encourage everyone to wear a mask in public, continue to socially distance and refrain from any unnecessary activities until we again curb the spread of this deadly disease.”

On a briefing with the Atlanta City Council on Thursday, the mayor said she’s watching what happens in Savannah. She also said a possible mask mandate can stress an already overtaxed police department.

“We are already having to redirect our resources from our police department to make sure our mass gatherings are as safe as they can possibly be, and this will be a further stress of our resources to then have our officers enforce a mask ordinance.”

East Point Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham: Yes

According to a city spokesperson, “Mayor Ingraham says if she had the authority, the answer would be yes — residents would be required to wear masks in public.”

Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch: No

“As a small part of metro Atlanta, a mandatory masking policy for Dunwoody alone would not be very effective. I would support a regional approach to mandatory masking. We do require masks in Dunwoody Municipal Court.”

Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst: Yes

“I would require wearing face masks if the law had allowed it, but the governor took away my ability to protect the businesses and citizens of Brookhaven.”

Alpharetta Mayor Jim Gilvin: Would encourage

We do encourage everyone to follow the current recommendations of public health officials, which include wearing cloth face coverings when in public,” said a city spokesperson.

South Fulton Mayor William Edwards: Yes

“If I could, I would. Because I believe in adhering to the protocols of the CDC in terms of keeping people safe,” said Mayor Edwards. The CDC recommends that the people wear face coverings in public, including cloth ones. Mayor Edwards, however, he’s concerned about the financial impact of possible fines on residents.

Acting mayor of Clarkston Awet Eyasu: Would encourage

“I believe that regional and state mandate is the ideal solution as we are a very small city surrounded by major cities that may or may not mandate masks, and it would make enforcement extremely difficult since the city limit boundaries are very fluid, and people commute to and from our city limits. The first stage before any mandate will have to involve:

  1. Regional (county) or state approach
  2. Education on the benefits of masks
  3. Providing free masks to everyone

If we can do those steps, I would support the idea of mandating masks. Enforcement would have to be still educational, not punitive.”

Decatur City manager Andrea Arnold said a mask mandate would require approval from the City Commission. “Ideally, the governor would follow the advice of medical experts and the CDC and order the use of face coverings to protect all residents of our state,” said Arnold. “If local governments were granted the authority to require the use of face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19, I would seriously consider making that recommendation to the City Commission.” Arnold says for a mask mandate to be effective, it would have to extend beyond Decatur. 

A spokesperson for Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said in a statement, “The mayor lacks unilateral authority to order mask usage; it would require council action.”

WABE also reached out to DeKalb and Gwinnett counties and did not get a response.

We’re awaiting a response from the mayor of Marietta. And we’re reaching out to other local officials and will update this post as we hear from city and county leaders across metro Atlanta.