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Georgia’s governor bans cities from requiring masks

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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) is stopping cities and counties in his state from requiring residents to wear masks in public places. On Wednesday, Kemp canceled orders from 15 local governments that had adopted such requirements.

A large number of U.S. states are starting to put mask requirements in place.

Kemp has been trying to encourage voluntary mask-wearing, including telling fans that reduced infections from mask-wearing would make college football season possible.

“To help us end this healthcare crisis, wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash your hands. We must all do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Georgia,” he tweeted Wednesday.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson was the first local official to defy Kemp and order masks. He 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. Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can,” Johnson tweeted.

The governor’s new order also bans local governments from requiring masks on public property which would include local city and county office buildings.

Kemp was the first governor to ease coronavirus restrictions. At first, the number of cases started to decline but much like other states, Georgia is again seeing a spike in new cases. There are currently 2,800 people hospitalized statewide with the COVID-19 respiratory illness. The state’s public health department reports 84% of hospitals’ available critical beds are in use.

“We are working around the clock to enhance hospital bed surge capacity, ramp up testing, and provide staffing and resources to healthcare facilities throughout our state,” the governor tweeted.

Local officials and Democrats had argued cities and counties had the power to move ahead because Kemp hadn’t specifically banned mask orders.

“It is increasingly clear from medical and scientific data that droplet and aerosol transmission of COVID-19 are an enormous community risk, so I made the decision to supplement the governor’s order with a local mask requirement to provide for greater community safety,” Kelly Girtz, mayor of the Athens-Clarke County said.

Kemp on Wednesday extended his executive order governing the state’s response to the pandemic until July 31. It extends the ban on gatherings of more than 50 people, renews rules about how businesses can operate and says nursing home residents, senior home residents and other people with medical conditions must shelter in place.

The overall state of emergency will run through at least August 11.

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