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DeKalb County, Doraville, Decatur consider mandating face masks

Marlie Arnold helps her son Lucas with his mask before entering the Atlanta zoo Saturday, May 16, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Marlie Arnold helps her son Lucas with his mask before entering the Atlanta zoo Saturday, May 16, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

DeKalb County and at least two of its cities are considering ordinances that would require residents to wear masks in public.

The city of Doraville in north DeKalb is set to vote on its mask ordinance on Monday. It would apply to all public places, including grocery stores, restaurants and city facilities.

“We have seen COVID-19 cases in Doraville zip codes more than triple since May 19,” Doraville Mayor Joseph Geierman said in a statement. “Masks are the most effective tool we all have to prevent the spread of coronavirus and mandating their use indoors will help us get this public health emergency under control more quickly with the least impact on people’s day-to-day lives.”

Further south in Decatur, city commissioners passed a resolution Wednesday that “strongly encourages” residents to wear masks in public -- but said that an ordinance making it mandatory could come “in the next few days.”

“Public input has been incontrovertible and we all believe that wearing masks saves lives,” Decatur Commissioner Kelly Walsh wrote on Facebook.

DeKalb County Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson, meanwhile, has proposed her own mask ordinance that would cover unincorporated parts of the county.
As currently written, the ordinance would mandate masks for anyone over 8 years old when in public places. Children between 3 and 8 years old would be "encouraged" but not required to wear masks.

Under Davis Johnson's ordinance, an initial violation would result in a written warning. Additional violations could result in fines of up to $250.

“This is not a situation where we can sit back and just let the leaders of this country and this state dictate what we can do," Davis Johnson said.

In a statement Wednesday, Doraville officials did not say whether their ordinance would include any penalties.

Several other governments in Georgia, including Savannah, East Point and Athens-Clarke County, have passed similar ordinances requiring masks. The new rules, however, conflict with a statewide order from Gov. Brian Kemp that "strongly encourages" — but does not mandate — the use of masks, and bans local governments from enacting stricter measures to fight COVID-19.

Kemp has not threatened legal action against the local governments bucking his statewide order.

During a committee meeting Tuesday, DeKalb’s county attorney was asked to weigh in on the potential legal complications of adopting something that conflicts Kemp's order.

Davis Johnson said she wants a full commission vote on the matter next Tuesday, regardless of what the legal opinion says.

“We have to do something to protect the health and life of our citizens in DeKalb," she said. "So sometimes you have to make bold moves. ... And if it's challenged, we have to step up to the plate.”

DeKalb and Doraville’s ordinances also include several exceptions, including outdoor physical activity with proper social distancing; for those with underlying medical conditions; and driving in personal vehicles.

With more than 7,100, DeKalb County has seen the third highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state. For every 100,000 people in the county, about 900 have tested positive. As of Wednesday morning, 173 deaths had been reported in DeKalb.

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