Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp sued the Atlanta City Council and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms Thursday to block a city-wide order requiring face masks in public, in the latest example of how public health has been politicized as coronavirus cases continue to surge across the U.S.
Kemp argued that the Atlanta rule is not "legally enforceable" because he signed an executive order prohibiting municipalities from enacting stricter requirements than the state, CNN reported. On Wednesday, he signed an executive order suspending all local mask mandates.
"It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us," Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, whose city also requires masks, tweeted in response to Wednesday's order. "Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can."
Kemp's justifications for the lawsuit were largely economic. In the text of the lawsuit itself, Kemp argued that Atlanta's mask rule created uncertainty for people and businesses and would cause people to "suffer immediate and irreparable harm," CBS News reported. He said some Atlanta restaurants had closed because they thought it was necessary to escape enforcement measures.
"This lawsuit is on behalf of the Atlanta business owners and their hardworking employees who are struggling to survive during these difficult times," he tweeted Thursday. "These men and women are doing their very best to put food on the table for their families while local elected officials shutter businesses and undermine economic growth."
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Bottoms, meanwhile, who has herself tested positive for the virus, defended her order on public health grounds.
"Public health experts overwhelmingly agree that wearing a face covering helps slow the spread of this sometimes deadly virus," she said during a press conference Thursday, as NPR reported. "It's a simple thing to do."
She also responded to the lawsuit on Twitter, noting that 3,104 Georgians had died of the virus so far and 106,000 had tested positive.
Bottoms' order, passed July 8, also bans public gatherings of more than 10 people. That is much lower than the statewide limit on gatherings of more than 50, as CBS reported. Those who do not wear masks within Atlanta's city limits could face a fine or up to six months in jail, according to CNN.
At least 15 Georgia municipalities require masks, according to CBS. In at least one of them, Dunwoody, the requirement was actually passed at the request of small business owners, Mayor Lynn Deutsch said in a Twitter thread.
"You know who is caught in the battle between the Georgia Governor and Local governments? Grocery store clerks, retail workers, and restaurant servers," he tweeted. "In other words, just the folks who aren't likely to have health insurance and paid time off."
It is unknown if Kemp will bring lawsuits against other local governments that require masks, CNN reported.
The dispute comes as coronavirus cases in Georgia continue to surge. On Wednesday, the day Kemp banned mask requirements, the state reported 3,871 new confirmed cases and 37 deaths, its second-highest daily case count, NPR reported at the time. On Thursday, the state reported 3,441 new cases and 13 deaths, according to CBS, as well as 244 hospitalizations.
It also comes the same week that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield strongly encouraged the use of masks during a visit to Charlotte, North Carolina on Wednesday.
"If all of us would put on a face-covering now for the next four weeks, six weeks, I think we could drive this epidemic into the ground," Redfield said, as ABC 12 reported.