Kemp's office: Mask mandates in Georgia are 'unenforceable'

Gov. Brian Kemp's office said Thursday that mask requirements adopted by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and leaders of other Georgia cities are “unenforceable” but stopped short of threatening legal action to block them.

“Like all of the local mask mandates, Mayor Bottoms' order is unenforceable,” said Kemp spokeswoman Candice Broce. “We continue to encourage Georgians to do the right thing and wear a mask voluntarily.”

The remarks were the most direct response from the Kemp administration to the wave of local governments in Georgia that were adopting requirements to wear face coverings to contain the coronavirus.

Kemp has encouraged the use of masks, but not required them, and signed a measure that prevented local municipalities from creating stronger provisions than those that are in his emergency order.

That could bring Atlanta and other cities into legal conflict with the state, although Kemp has not yet directed his office to take court action.

Savannah was the first to establish a mask ordinance last week and several other local governments have followed suit, using the coastal Georgia city's rule as a template.

The cities of East Point and Athens passed their own ordinances Tuesday and Atlanta announced its mandate on Wednesday. Other cities across the state have issued plans to take up similar measures. 

In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial board meeting on Wednesday, Bottoms said she feels secure establishing a mask requirement after Kemp didn't seek to block other Georgia cities from doing so.

“The governor has allowed them to stand,” Bottoms said. “So we are going to follow suit.”

Kemp has preferred a softer approach. He embarked on a seven-city “Wear A Mask” tour last week and has warned Georgians that not donning a face covering could imperil a college football season.

His office has also taken a sharper tone with Bottoms, including deploying 1,000 National Guard troops to protect state government sites in the city after the Atlanta headquarters of the Georgia State Patrol was ransacked.

“If the mayor wants to flatten the curve in Atlanta,” Broce said, “she should start enforcing the current provisions of the governor's orders.”