Georgia gov, Atlanta to continue mediation on mask order

FILE - In this July 17, 2019, file photo, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks during a Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis on Capitol Hill in Washington. A judge plans to hear arguments Tuesday, July 28, 2020, on an emergency request by Georgia’s governor to stop Atlanta from enforcing a mandate to wear a mask in public and other restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic while a lawsuit on the issue is pending.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signaled Wednesday she will place Georgia’s capital city under a mandatory mask order amid the COVID-19 pandemic, joining Athens and Savannah on a list of Georgia cities where masking is now required.

The Atlanta order comes in the face of continued opposition by Gov. Brian Kemp to issuing a statewide mandatory masking order, even as officials and health experts urge people to wear masks in public.

The new mask requirement in Atlanta also comes after Bottoms announced she and several of her family members had tested positive for coronavirus earlier this week, though she has not experienced any symptoms.

Details about the order were not immediately available Wednesday. Bottoms said she would issue an order in an MSNBC interview Wednesday morning.

As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 104,000 people in Georgia had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus that sparked a global pandemic. It had killed 2,922 Georgians.

City officials in Savannah, Athens, and the suburban Atlanta city of East Point have also issued mask-wearing requirements in recent days, as health experts warn positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have edged up in Georgia following the Memorial Day holiday in late May.

The decision by Bottoms puts Atlanta at odds with Kemp, whose own statewide executive orders on COVID-19 allow him to override any local mandates such as for masking.

Kemp’s office did not immediately respond when asked whether he may seek to overrule an Atlanta order.

Speaking on MSNBC, Bottoms said she had asked the governor to let Atlanta impose its own mask mandate but that “he refused.” She labeled state officials’ approach to loosening business and distancing restrictions in recent months as “very irresponsible.”

“The fact of the matter is that COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on our cities, specifically black and brown communities with higher death rates,” Bottoms said. “And we will never be able to reopen our schools and our economy if we don’t take some responsibility for what we can do as leaders to make sure that people aren’t exposed to this virus.”

The governor has held off on imposing a statewide mask requirement despite mounting pressure from many local officials and health experts to do so.

In remarks Tuesday to municipal and county government associations, Kemp called on local leaders to raise awareness over the importance of wearing masks and washing hands, rather than imposing any mandates.

“We don’t need a mandate to have Georgians do the right thing,” Kemp said. “But we do need to build strong, public support.”

The governor has opted instead to tour the state in a bid to urge mask wearing and launched a marketing campaign this week encouraging reopened businesses to adopt safe distancing, cleaning and masking practices.

Bottoms announced Monday she had tested positive for COVID-19, marking the most high-profile public official in Georgia to contract the virus. She said she did not know where she might have been exposed but criticized the slow eight-day turnaround time for her test results.

“The fact that we can’t quickly get results back so that other people are not unintentionally exposed is the reason we are continuing in this spiral with COVID-19,” Bottoms said.

She noted Atlanta city hall has been closed since March but that she had recently been in close proximity to the city’s police chief, fire chief and other staff.

The mayor’s announcement also comes as she grapples not only with the city’s response to coronavirus but also a spate of violence centered around a burned-down Wendy’s that has been a focal point for recent protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

The fatal shooting Saturday night of an eight-year-old girl, Secoriea Turner, near the Wendy’s restaurant sparked swift condemnation from Bottoms and other officials including the governor.

Kemp has placed Georgia under a state of emergency through Monday in response to Turner’s death and vandalism at the state Department of Public Safety headquarters in Atlanta.

Atlanta authorities said Turner was shot and killed when a group of armed people opened fire on the car in which she was riding across the street from the Wendy’s, located south of downtown.

The Wendy’s was burned down amid protests shortly after the killing of Rayshard Brooks, 27, during an altercation with Atlanta police outside the restaurant in mid-June. Since then, the site has been frequented by armed persons who at times have barricaded the property, according to police.

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