Georgia governor sues Atlanta mayor and City Council over mask mandate as state’s coronavirus cases increase

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp on Thursday sued Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and City Council members amid their efforts to mandate masks and enforce social distancing measures during the coronavirus pandemic. The lawsuit comes as Atlanta has seen a surge of COVID-19 cases.

There were 3,441 new cases of coronavirus reported in Georgia on Thursday, according to the state’s health department, as well as 13 deaths and 244 hospitalizations.

The governor said the city’s recent executive orders “were more restrictive than his” and Bottoms “exceeded her authority.” Kemp tweeted that the 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 tweeted. “… 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.”

In the lawsuit, Kemp states that Bottoms’ recent orders create “ambiguity and uncertainty for the citizenry and businesses” in Atlanta. The lawsuit also said that some restaurants have closed in the belief that doing so “is required to avoid enforcement action by the City.” 

Enforcing mask and social distancing restrictions, the lawsuit said, will cause people to “suffer immediate and irreparable harm.” Kemp’s lawsuit also notes that the City Council “does not have the power” to pass ordinances that are contrary to his orders. 

Georgia Attorney General Carr tweeted that the lawsuit is “about the rule of law.” 

“The Constitution gives @GovKemp chief executive power for the State, including during a public health state of emergency. The @CityofAtlanta cannot continue to knowingly enter orders that are unenforceable and void,” Carr tweeted.

On Wednesday, Kemp explicitly banned Georgia cities and counties from ordering people to wear face masks in public places, despite the state’s rising coronavirus infections. At least 15 local governments in the state — including Atlanta, Augusta and the governor’s hometown of Athens-Clarke County — have enforced a mask mandate after Kemp focused on encouraging people to voluntarily wear masks.

Kemp has banned gatherings of more than 50 people, and has issued a state of emergency through at least August 11. 

Under the Atlanta mayor’s mandate, all individuals within the jurisdiction of Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport — aside from those explicitly excused, including children younger than 10 — need to wear a mask or face covering in public. The order also prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people on Atlanta property, which does not include private businesses or establishments.

DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties make up more than a quarter of the state’s coronavirus cases, according to Georgia health officials. There have been more than 33,800 cases in the three counties, which are a part of Atlanta’s metro area. 

Bottoms recently tested positive for coronavirus herself.

“I and my family are amongst the 106k who have tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, I have been sued by @GovKemp for a mask mandate. A better use of tax payer money would be to expand testing and contact tracing,” Bottoms tweeted Thursday.

In another tweet, she highlighted that the mandate Kemp is suing her for are “RECOMMENDED guidelines” as part of the city’s Phase One reopening plans.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control called on the country to wear face masks, as studies show they help prevent the spread of COVID-19, which has killed more than 138,000 people in the U.S. alone, according to Johns Hopkins. 

“We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” CDC director Dr. Robert R. Redfield said in a press release. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus — particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families and their communities.”

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