Kemp renews COVID-19 restrictions, expands local authority on mask mandates

Governor Brian Kemp signed an executive order on Saturday extending current statewide COVID-19 restrictions. The order extends the shelter in place order for the medically fragile, continues the ban on large gatherings, and maintains health and safety protocols for Georgia businesses through August 31.

The order also gives cities and counties more leeway in instituting mask mandates, something Kemp previously opposed. He even went to court to block them. But the governor dropped his lawsuit earlier this week and reversed his opposition to local mask mandates, setting the stage for Saturday’s order.

Under the order, any city and county may institute mask requirements on government-owned property. About 100 have already done so, according to the Georgia Municipal Association, and Kemp’s decision allows them to move forward with their requirements. Kemp’s order also establishes the “Local Option Face Covering Requirement” under which local governments may expand face covering requirements in communities where, over the previous fourteen days, there have been at least 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people.

READ Kemp’s executive order

If governments do extend mask mandates, they may only be enforced on private property if the owner or occupant consents. Also, no one under a mask mandate may be fined more than $50 or imprisoned. The governor’s order allows school districts to impose mask mandates on campus if they so choose.

In issuing his executive order, Kemp said there’s been a 22% drop in COVID cases statewide and a 7% decrease in hospitalizations in the last seven days. He also said the state is maintaining a low rate of transmission. “The positivity rate is on the decline, and the mortality rate continues to fall,” he said. “While encouraged by the data, we cannot grow complacent.”

Kemp’s order comes just two days after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on an August 9 report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force that said Georgia’s “Current mitigation efforts are not having a sufficient impact.”

The task force strongly recommended the state issue a statewide mask mandate, close nightclubs, bars and gyms, restrict indoor dining to less than one-quarter of dining room capacity, and limit social gatherings to 10 or less.

Georgia is one of 16 states without some form of statewide mask mandate. Kemp said he believes a statewide requirement is unnecessary and unenforceable.

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