Officials in the U.S. state of Georgia on Thursday appeared headed for a clash over face masks to fight the spread of the coronavirus after the governor barred mayors from requiring residents to wear them.
Governor Brian Kemp issued an executive order late on Wednesday suspending local regulations requiring “face coverings, masks, face shields or any other personal protective equipment” in public.
The order said residents were “strongly encouraged” to wear face coverings in public. Kemp, a member of President Donald Trump’s Republican Party, suggested any order mandating masks would be too restrictive.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, who issued a mask mandate in his Georgia city on July 1, reacted swiftly.
“It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us. Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can,” Johnson, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter.
The Democratic mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, required masks in Georgia’s largest city on July 8.
COVID-19 cases spiked across the American South and West after local officials started loosening economic and social restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. On Thursday, Florida reported its third record increase in deaths this month, up 156. The previous record was 133 on July 9.
As lockdowns ease, health experts say people should wear masks and adhere to social distancing.
Ethan Padgett, 37, a furloughed arts museum worker from Atlanta, said he believed the governor’s order was a “bad idea.”
“We need to wear masks to stop the spread. The mayor knows that,” he said, talking through his mask outside Joe’s Coffee in the East Atlanta Village neighborhood.
“So many people aren’t following this day-to-day, but are taking their cues from our leaders. If the governor takes it more seriously, people will. Things are worse here than they were three months ago.”