ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp went to court Thursday to block Atlanta from enacting tougher coronavirus restrictions and its mask mandate.
The move will set up a legal showdown between the state and local governments over efforts to contain the disease.
The state filed a lawsuit challenging Bottoms’ decision on July 10 to revert to “phase one” guidelines that push restaurants to close dining rooms and urge residents to leave home only for essential trips. It also challenges the city’s new mask requirements.
“This lawsuit is on behalf of the Atlanta business owners and their hardworking employees who are struggling to survive during these difficult times. 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,” Kemp said in a statement. “Just like sending in the Georgia National Guard to protect those living in our capital city from crime and violence, I refuse to sit back and watch as disastrous policies threaten the lives and livelihoods of our citizens. We will fight to stop these reckless actions and put people over pandemic politics.”
“The State of Georgia continues to urge citizens to wear masks. This lawsuit is about the rule of law. The Constitution gives Governor Kemp chief executive power for the State of Georgia, including during a public health state of emergency. The City of Atlanta cannot continue to knowingly enter orders that are unenforceable and void,” Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said in a statement Thursday.
Bottoms has been one of the most vocal opponents to the governor’s executive orders that said no local government can institute laws or ordinances that go above or below the guidelines spelled out in the orders.
Kemp issued his newest executive order Wednesday night that extended his COVID-19 guidelines. As part of that order, Kemp said face masks are strongly encouraged, but not mandated. The language in his order specified that cities and counties can’t require the use of masks or other face coverings — because the ordinances superseded state law.
At a Cobb County bill signing on Thursday, Kemp did not address the mask issue but talked about the pain the pandemic is causing Georgians.
“We began this year working together, not knowing what we’d be facing right now with this pandemic and grappling with the loss of so many lives in only a few short months,” Kemp said.
During a news conference Thursday, Bottoms said regardless of the governor’s order, she is still going to require people to wear masks in city-owned buildings like the airport and City Hall.
“It’s a simple thing to do. It’s an easy thing to do. We will continue to push and ask people to do it, despite the disagreements that we may have,” Bottoms said.
Bottoms said she wants to follow the science and slow the spread of the virus.
“What health care professionals are telling us, is that they are being overrun in our hospitals and they are asking us to help slow the spread,” Bottoms said. “What’s getting lost are the lies, and the reality that this is a pandemic.”
For Bottoms, the need to stop the spread of the virus is personal. You may remember Bottoms and members of her family tested positive for the virus. She isn’t showing signs of COVID-19, but she says her otherwise healthy husband was hit hard.
“He lost 20 pounds in one week,” Bottoms said.
Several other metro mayors said they are not happy with the governor’s latest order as well.
The city of South Fulton Mayor Bill Edwards says his town is seeing a 25percent increase in COVID-19 infections every week.
That’s why they enacted a mask mandate — one that the governor now says, they can’t do.
“This has been a difficult time for all of us, you know? A lot of this is political jockeying, and some of it is health related, and all kinds of potpourri of all kinds of things,” Edwards said.
From Athens, Mayor Kelly Girtz said, “We wish for our local requirements to remain in place. We strongly believe this is within our authority.”
“The governor’s open hostility to common sense protections has once again put Georgia in the national spotlight as a state where decisions are made based on politics, not science,” Doraville Mayor Joseph Geierman said.
“Do not take away or try to take away this moment over our authority to do all that we can to ensure that we’re protecting the health, welfare and safety of our citizens,” East Point Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham said.
Kemp has scheduled an 8 a.m. news conference for Friday to talk specifically about the state’s response to COVID-19. It is unclear if he will directly address the mask issue.
By Richard Elliot and Dave Huddleston