Updated Thursday at 6:06 p.m.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an executive order Wednesday mandating the use of face masks in public spaces, becoming one of the latest cities to test an order from Gov. Brian Kemp that bars local governments from setting their own public health rules.
“We’ve given a lot of thought on it, and we will be going forward with a mask ordinance in our city today,” Bottoms told WABE Wednesday morning.
Her remarks come only a day after Bottoms told “Good Morning America” that she has asked Kemp to allow her to mandate masks in the city and he refused. Kemp has said he believes Georgians do not need mandates to follow recommended public health practices.
Kemp Spokeswoman: Local Mask Orders ‘Unenforceable’
A spokeswoman for Kemp is calling local mask orders in Georgia, like the one signed by Bottoms, “unenforceable,” though both the state and city agree that people should be wearing masks.
“We continue to encourage Georgians to do the right thing and wear a mask voluntarily,” Candice Broce said in a statement. “If the Mayor wants to flatten the curve in Atlanta, she should start enforcing the current provisions of the Governor’s orders.”
In a statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bottoms said the city intends to enforce the new ordinance “like any other city policy.”
The governor’s executive order related to the coronavirus, issued in the context of powers granted under the state of public health emergency, supersedes all local coronavirus-related regulations. Bottoms, in her executive order, argues that because the governor’s order does not explicitly reference masks, it has legal ground to require them.
Kemp has continued to shy away from issuing a statewide face mask mandate, even as localities including Savannah, East Point, Brookhaven and now Atlanta have passed their own orders.
The Atlanta order goes into effect immediately and also prohibits gatherings of more than 10 persons on city property.
It applies to anyone older than 10 years of age and excludes anyone with a medical condition or disability that would prevent the wearing of a face covering. People don’t have to be masked while in personal vehicles or while eating, drinking, smoking or swimming.
The city also says it plans to distribute masks to the public with funding from the CARES Act.
Atlanta City Councilman Dustin Hillis, a critical care registered nurse who worked on Emory’s Ebola response, welcomed the mayor’s decision to require masks. He said he would have liked to have seen masks required sooner.
“Being from my profession, this would have happened a whole lot earlier,” he said. “And that’s not just speaking to Mayor Bottoms, but everyone across the state, across the country.”
On a call with local elected officials Tuesday, Kemp continued to shy away from issuing a statewide face mask mandate, even as Georgia surpassed 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Though he did say it was “fine” that local governments had differing opinions “on the appropriate response to this pandemic.”
Last week, Savannah became the first city in the state to issue a requirement that people wear face masks in public to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The city of East Point and the combined government of Athens-Clarke County passed similar rules Tuesday.
WABE reporter Molly Samuel contributed to this report.