As Georgia's COVID cases grow, Kemp faces decision on new restrictions

Credit: AJC

Two weeks ago, Gov. Brian Kemp took a step that he hadn't since late April: He signed an executive order that extended – but didn't roll back – coronavirus restrictions he put in place earlier this year.

It was a break from a string of decisions that steadily relaxed economic regulations – and a reflection of Georgia’s worsening battle against the pandemic following a record spike in cases.

Now he faces a new decision. The state's latest round of coronavirus rules is set to expire on Wednesday, and he must choose whether to keep them in place or impose new restrictions to help contain a growing outbreak.

At the same time, he's facing a growing revolt from local governments who want to take more drastic action than his statewide order allows. A string of cities, led by Savannah in early July, have imposed mask mandates. Atlanta took an extra step, enacting new economic limits.

The governor has pushed back by calling those rules "unenforceable" and encouraging cities and counties to carry out the guidelines his order put in place. And he's said he has no plans to require residents to wear masks, though he's encouraged them to do so.

His decision Tuesday takes on new urgency as reported cases of the virus in Georgia surpassed 100,000 and hospitals report fewer available beds. The state's testing capacity is facing new strains, and the contact tracing program is struggling to keep up.

Democrats and public health experts are urging him to echo the governors of some other Republican-led states, including Florida and Texas, which have begun reversing steps to reopen their economies.

“When I look at the numbers at this state, I’m disgusted by them,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said on CNN. “And what angers me, on top of all the death and sickness, to have to look at the children and tell them they’re likely not able to go back to the school in the fall.”

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