Kemp signs order freeing businesses from local COVID-19 ordinances

Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday he has signed an executive order liberating businesses from local COVID-19 ordinances.

"The one thing that can make tough times even harder when you're running your own business is more government," Gov. Kemp said in a news conference shortly after the signing.  "Just as our economy has started returning to normal, small businesses from Savannah to Atlanta cannot survive another round of shutdowns."

Both Savannah and Atlanta have recently re-instituted mask mandates as COVID-19 cases rise statewide.  Gov. Kemp said the news out of those two cities "concerned" him.

"Georgians know the risks of COVID-19 and they also know how to go about their lives. That's why the Executive Order I signed today will ensure that businesses cannot be forced to follow local government ordinances regarding COVID-19.  Local governments will not be able to force businesses to be the city's mask police, the vaccine police or any other burdensome restriction that will only lead to employees being let go, revenue tanking and businesses closing their doors.  If businesses choose to follow the COVID-19 restrictions at the local level, they are certainly free to do so."

RELATED: Kemp vows more funding for Georgia hospitals to fight COVID-19

The Democratic Party of Georgia quickly responded to Gov. Kemp's order, criticizing him for what they labeled a decision to "facilitate the spread of the virus."

"It’s bad enough that Brian Kemp has refused to implement any statewide measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Georgia – now, he is forbidding local governments from protecting their own communities. As public health officials, parents, and Georgians at large beg Kemp to take action to combat the current COVID-19 surge in our state, the only action he is apparently willing to take is one that will help COVID-19 spread in Georgia and undermine local efforts to control the virus," said Rebecca Galanti, spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Georgia. "Kemp’s prioritization of politics over public health in the midst of a once-in-a-generation pandemic is shameful and disqualifying, and Georgians deserve better."

A spokesperson for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms also issued a response to the news.

"A lack of leadership at the State level has resulted in Georgia ranking 48th nationally in fully vaccinated residents over the age of 12, subsequently ranking 7th in COVID-19 cases and 12th in deaths.  Mayor Bottoms has followed the science and data from the onset of this pandemic. Masks save lives and it is absurd we must continuously defend such a simple, straightforward fact," a spokesperson said in a statement to FOX 5.

Both the Atlanta and Athens-Clarke County mask ordinances allow private businesses to opt-out.

Savannah's mayor also weighed in on Twitter.

"While Governor Kemp believes he has shown leadership in ‘keeping Georgia businesses open,’ he should start by reopening the closed Department of Labor offices across the state or perhaps by even re-opening the Governor’s Mansion which has been closed for months," Mayor Van Johnson wrote.

The Georgia Department of Public Health reported 9,836 new cases of COVID-19 bringing the two-week average to 6,576 as of Thursday afternoon. Current hospitalizations continue to climb with more than 4,900 COVID-19 patients having been admitted, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Just under 4.36 million Georgians or about 47.4% of those eligible to receive one of the three COVID-19 vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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