Atlanta to mandate face masks to contain coronavirus

Credit: AJC

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she would sign an order Wednesday requiring the use of masks in the city, joining other local governments who are going beyond Gov. Brian Kemp's order that encourages but does not mandate face coverings.

The mayor told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she was compelled to enact the restriction because of the rising number of coronavirus cases, specifically in minority communities, after state officials didn't stop other cities from enforcing mandates.

“The state has allowed it to stand and we’re going to follow suit. Leading has as much to do with leading as following,” she said. “Right now we’re following other cities in the state.”

A spate of Georgia cities are moving to require the use of face masks to contain the coronavirus after Savannah became the first local government to adopt a mandate last week. 

The order requires all people in city limits or at Hartsfield-Jackson airport to wear a mask or a face covering over their nose or mouth. It includes outdoor public spaces and wherever it isn’t feasible to practice social distancing.

There are several exemptions, including for kids younger than 10 years old and people with medical disabilities.
Her decision comes shortly after Kemp deployed 1,000 National Guard troops to state government sites in Atlanta over the mayor's objections.

East Point lawmakers approved restrictions on Monday and officials in Kemp's hometown of Athens followed suit on Tuesday. Several others, including Doraville and DeKalb County, are poised to consider similar measures.

The requirements could come into conflict with a statewide order from Kemp that "strongly encourages" – but does not mandate – the use of masks and bans local governments from enacting stricter or more lenient measure to fight the disease.

Supporters of the restrictions say they're unfazed by what could be a thorny legal challenge. They point to pleas from public health experts, the growing number of states with similar requirements and the surging number of coronavirus cases in Georgia, which passed the 100,000 mark on Tuesday.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Kemp has called a statewide requirement a "bridge too far" and pursued a softer approach, including a "Wear A Mask" tour last week that touched down in seven Georgia cities over two days along with frequent warnings that college football season could be imperiled if his calls are ignored.

On a conference call on Tuesday with local officials, Kemp urged them to steer clear of mandates and to use social media and access to news media outlets to encourage residents to voluntarily don coverings. But he stopped short of threatening legal action.

“I realize that many on this call have different opinions on the appropriate response to this pandemic – and that’s fine. But we all agree that masks are good and can help stop the spread,” Kemp said.

“We all know that social distancing makes it hard for the virus to travel. We agree that handwashing can limit exposure. So instead of mandates, I’m asking you to join me in raising awareness.”

>>More: 'It's up to us.' A growing number of Georgia cities require masks

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