Gov. Brian Kemp said he is determined to prevent Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and other local leaders from issuing a mask mandate despite the growing number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the state.
Kemp, a Republican, filed a lawsuit against Bottoms, a Democrat, Thursday evening contending that she exceeded her authority by going against his statewide order issued the previous day forbidding local municipalities from requiring a face covering and closing down eateries and other nonessential businesses. Despite strong evidence that shows face coverings greatly reduce the virus' spread and Atlanta's rising COVID-19 cases, Kemp said the mayor cannot enforce her order.
He agreed that masks do help, but said people should be encouraged to wear a covering and not forced.
"I refuse to sit back and watch as disastrous policies threaten the lives and livelihoods of our citizens," Kemp told reporters at a news conference Friday morning.
"A better use of taxpayer money would be to expand testing and contact tracing. If being sued by the State is what it takes to save lives in Atlanta, then we will see them in court,” Bottoms said in a statement.
Georgia is one of several states across the country to see a jump in coronavirus cases and has over 131,000 confirmed cases as of Friday morning, according to the state's health department. Nearly half of those cases, 64,568, were recorded over the last 30 days, according to data from the health department.
Since the governor ended the state's shelter-in-place order on April 24, the seven-day average for newly reported cases jumped from 741 to 3,110 on July 2, the health department's data showed. Since the reopening, 2,105 people have lost their lives to the virus, and the seven-day average of newly reported deaths has grown from 11.57 on July 9 to 24.86 on July 16 according to the state data.
At least a dozen mayors in Georgia have said they will keep a mask mandate despite the order, including Savannah's Van Johnson. Johnson had harsh words for Kemp Thursday at a news conference.
"We will continue to follow the science. We will continue to provide masks, for free. We will continue to wear them," he said. "We will continue to mandate them. And we will continue to require them in our city."
As of Friday morning, Kemp has not filed a suit against Johnson or the other mayors who have kept their mask mandate. He has also not taken legal action against businesses that require customers and employees to wear face coverings, such as Walmart.
A representative for Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told ABC News that as of Friday morning they had not been served a lawsuit from the governor's office.
Other governors in states that have seen a recent rise in COVID-19 cases, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, have instituted mandatory mask requirements in the last few weeks. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has allowed local cities to implement their mandates, but hasn't issued a statewide order.