DeKalb County, three more cities adopt mask mandates

Mask-wearing shoppers lined up over the length of a football field at the Sam’s Club on Clairmont Road in DeKalb County on April 3, 2020. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Mask-wearing shoppers lined up over the length of a football field at the Sam’s Club on Clairmont Road in DeKalb County on April 3, 2020. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

DeKalb County and three more local cities — Avondale Estates, Doraville and Dunwoody — have now adopted ordinances mandating the use of face coverings in public.

They join at least two other DeKalb cities and a growing number of municipalities across Georgia to enact mandates in defiance of Gov. Brian Kemp's less stringent orders.

DeKalb’s ordinance, which covers unincorporated parts of the county, was approved Tuesday afternoon by the Board of Commissioners.

It orders residents and visitors over 8 years old to wear a mask in public places, with several exemptions for things like driving; eating and drinking; outdoor exercise if proper social distancing is observed; and underlying medical conditions.

The ordinance includes a warning for initial violations and a $250 fine for additional violations — a point of contention for at least two commissioners during Tuesday’s meeting.

Nancy Jester and Kathie Gannon pushed for the inclusion of fines to be reconsidered, either because of questions about how it will be enforced or a desire for more of an educational focus.

“I just think the enforcement issue is gonna be a real trap for us,” Jester said.

Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson sponsored the ordinance. She said her intent was always to encourage and educate, not to punish.

To that end, she accepted a recommendation by another colleague to add $100,000 for mask-related education efforts to the ordinance.

“We just want you to cover your face because of the chances you're spreading this virus to other people,” Davis Johnson said.

The ordinance ultimately passed by a 5-1-1 vote, with Jester voting “no” and Gannon abstaining.

The cities of Avondale Estates, Doraville and Dunwoody all adopted their own masking ordinances on Monday night.

Each mandate has its own nuances, but most included similar exemptions to those seen in DeKalb’s ordinance.

The proposed enforcement also varied.

Dunwoody’s ordinance, for instance, includes no penalties. Doraville’s includes a $25 fine for the first offense, $50 for the second offense and $100 on all subsequent offenses.

Avondale Estates’ ordinance prescribes a citation only if someone is warned and refuses to comply.

The new rules adopted by DeKalb, its cities and other jurisdictions across the state conflict with a statewide order from the governor's office that "strongly encourages" — but does not mandate — the use of masks. Gov. Kemp's order also bans local governments from enacting stricter measures to fight COVID-19.

Kemp has not threatened legal action against the local governments bucking his statewide but has said their mandates are unenforceable.

But that’s not stopping various jurisdictions from adopting them.

The city of Savannah was the first and was followed by East Point and Atlanta.

In DeKalb, Brookhaven and Decatur put ordinances in place last week. Chamblee plans to consider a mandate on later this week.

The city of Tucker will not.

In a video posted online Monday, Tucker Mayor Frank Auman encouraged residents to wear masks and said the city planned to acquire a stockpile to provide them for free. But he said getting the legal system involved is a step too far.

“I simply don’t think it’s wise to put everyone on all sides of the argument in the position of calling the police whenever they believe somebody should be wearing a mask and they’re not,” he said.