Mayors across Georgia stood behind Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms Thursday after the state’s governor filed a lawsuit against her over the city’s mask mandate.
Gov. Brian Kemp said the measure violates his emergency orders prohibiting local leaders from adding to the state’s requirements to protect against coronavirus. The lawsuit escalates a feud between Kemp and Bottoms after she introduced an order that makes not wearing a mask within city limits punishable by a fine or up to six months in jail.
As of Friday morning, Georgia had reported 131,287 coronavirus infections and 3,105 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
“It is beyond my comprehension that we can’t follow the science on this,” Bottoms said on CNN on Friday morning. “This is about the lives of people. And the people in my city are dying. The people in our state are dying.”
She said the suit is a waste of taxpayer money, and earlier tweeted, “3104 Georgians have died and I and my family are amongst the 106k who have tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, I have been sued by @GovKemp for a mask mandate.
Kemp’s suit opposes more than the mask orders.
It also challenges Bottoms’ call to limit public gatherings to 10 people, rather than the 50 Kemp favors, and says the city has not been enforcing his limit. He says Bottoms doesn’t have the authority to order the city revert to “Phase 1” guidelines to close restaurant dining rooms and to urge people to stay home except when essential.
He disputes her claim that she “issued an Order directing” a return to stricter business regulations of Phase 1. He says she merely said so to the press.
Kemp’s suit asks a judge to bar Bottoms from “issuing press releases, or making statements to the press, that she has the authority to impose more or less restrictive measures than are ordered by Governor Kemp related to the Public Health Emergency,”
Bottoms responded on Twitter: “Reading is fundamental. @GovKemp is suing Atlanta over RECOMMENDED guidelines.”
Kemp said the lawsuit was an attempt to support business owners as local leaders “undermine economic growth.”
But several mayors in the state have spoken out against the lawsuit, saying that mask mandates are supported by their residents.
Governor, others still urge wearing of masks
At a press conference Friday morning, Kemp urged Georgians to wear a mask when in public or when social distancing inside isn’t possible.
The state’s Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey said, “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of this virus. Wearing a mask prevents an infected person from spreading Covid-19 to others.”
And Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said, “My appeal here is for everybody in Georgia, everybody in the country, when you leave your home, go put a mask on. Let this be a defining moment of this society.”
Three metro Atlanta counties have the highest number of new cases over the past three weeks, accounting for almost 26% of all the new cases in the state, Toomey said.
“We continue to see outbreaks in workplaces, in businesses, in congregant settings, daycares, camps, fraternity housing, many churches and any place where there are a large number of people gathering,” Toomey said.
Also Friday, Bottoms accused Kemp of playing politics with the issue. She noted Kemp’s lawsuit came a day after President Donald Trump visited Atlanta and she pointed out that Trump was violating city law by not wearing a mask.
In an interview on the “Today” show Friday, she said, “I absolutely do think that he is putting politics over people … This is the same governor who didn’t know until well into the pandemic that it could be spread by asymptomatic transmission.”
Ansley Golf Club in midtown Atlanta is closed for cleaning because 67 employees tested positive, and more than three dozen are awaiting results, CNN affiliate WSB reported.
Club officials say most of the people who tested positive are asymptomatic.
‘We want a community that is safe’
Several mayors told CNN, Kemp’s order and the action he is taking to enforce it has kept them from taking action to protect their citizens.
“As I’ve consistently said, you’ve got to have the three W’s. You’ve got to wear a mask, you’ve got to wash your hands and you have to watch your distance,” Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis, Jr. told CNN’s Don Lemon Thursday. “If we’re going to keep people from dying in the state of Georgia, these are things we have to do.”
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson told CNN’s Jake Tapper Thursday he felt the order added another thing for cities to fight against.
“Not only are we fighting coronavirus on one hand, it appears as if we’re fighting our state on the other hand,” Johnson said. “We’re going to do what we can to protect Savannahians. … This is a fight for our lives.”
And though Kemp’s office argued the order against mask mandates supports residents, some mayors said the public is calling for more restrictions.
“I’m hearing from constituent after constituent who is saying, ‘please, hang on to the mask order. We want to be safe. We want a community that is safe,” Athens-Clark Mayor Kelly Girtz told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.
Even businesses benefit from the mandates, he argued, because they allow them to implement safety measures evenly.
“We want to be sure whether you are a small business or national chain you are similarly safe,” he said. “Business people have been asking me to create as level a playing field as possible.”
“You know who is caught in the battle between the Georgia Governor and Local governments? Grocery store clerks, retail workers, and restaurant servers,” Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch wrote on Twitter. “In other words, just the folks who aren’t likely to have health insurance and paid time off.”
‘It has nothing to do with politics’
Davis, Johnson, Girtz and Bottoms are all Democrats speaking against the policy implemented by a Republican governor, but they say coronavirus and its precautions shouldn’t be political.
“What we can’t do is use executive orders to divide the state of Georgia and take an apolitical public health crisis and turn it into a political football,” Davis said.
In fact, may Republican leaders have signed on for restrictions to protect against the virus’ spread, Girtz noted.
“Texas, Alabama, we’re hearing about Arkansas today,” he said. “It’s just clear there are some simple health care guidance and science that we all ought to be following across the political spectrum.”
Johnson said the governor’s orders are stopping local leaders from acting against the virus even as neighboring Alabama has mandated masks and Florida to the south is becoming the hotspot.
“It has nothing to do with politics. It’s about protecting our folks,” he said.
CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi and Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.