Kemp takes jab at Atlanta mayor's mask mandate

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp gives an update on COVID-19 vaccine distribution across the state March 16, 2020.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has openly criticized Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms' decision to issue an executive order mandating masks be worn in indoor public places in the city.

The mayor issued that order Wednesday evening, just hours after the governor wrote he would not impose any new statewide lockdowns or mask mandates as new cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations steadily rise in Georgia. Kemp pointed to data that shows most of those being impacted by the virus now are unvaccinated and encouraged all Georgians to get vaccinated.

Thursday afternoon, Gov. Kemp took to Twitter again to call for the city to redirect its focus.

"Instead of asking our dedicated men and women in uniform to enforce a mask mandate, Atlanta should focus on combatting violent crime and street racing," the governor wrote.

Speaking to reporters Thursday night, Kemp blamed the Democratic president for not doing enough to push the Food and Drug Administration to upgrade its emergency authorization for the vaccines to a permanent authorization. Kemp said urging people to use masks again is a "mixed message" that could discourage vaccination.

The governor reiterated his call for people to get vaccinated against the disease, saying he would only seek other solutions if Georgia hospitals began to get overwhelmed. Georgia ranks in the bottom 10 states for vaccination rates.

"We know that the vaccines work," Kemp said. "I want to encourage people to get vaccinated if you’re comfortable doing that."

He also reiterated his earlier tweet.

"The city of Atlanta can barely keep up with crime. I know these officers damn well don’t have time to write tickets for not wearing a mask," Kemp said.

This time last year, the two leaders tangled over state versus local authority when it came to mask mandates. Kemp and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr filed suit against the mayor arguing Bottoms had overstepped her authority and must obey the governor’s executive orders under state law. Those orders expressly blocked Atlanta and at least 14 other local governments across the state from requiring people to wear face coverings.

The mayor indirectly responded to the governor's comments tweeting:

"What’s ridiculous is that his strategy w/ crime seems to be the same as his strategy w/ COVID, to pick a fight w/ me. Vaccinations are down and crime and COVID are up across GA. He should stop trying to win an election by trashing Atlanta, the capital city of the state he leads."

Wednesday’s order from the mayor requires "all persons in a public place, including private businesses and establishments, to wear a mask or a cloth face covering over their nose and mouth when indoors." It does not include people eating or drinking, people who are in their homes, or people who have legitimate health conditions preventing them from wearing a mask.

Penalties for violating the order include a warning for the first offense, a $25 fine for the second offense, and a $50 fine for any subsequent violations.

Earlier this week, the city of Savannah reinstated its mask mandate and several school districts also have said masks will be required during the upcoming school year.

On Tuesday, the CDC recommended vaccinated people wear masks indoors again in parts of the U.S. where the coronavirus is surging and that everyone in K-12 schools wears masks, regardless of vaccination status. According to health official data, those areas include both Fulton and DeKalb counties.

The state has seen a steady climb in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations since the Fourth of July holiday. As of Thursday at 3 p.m., more than 1,800 patients were in the hospital and the two-week average for new cases had climbed to 1,406, numbers not seen since the early part of March, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Health officials urgently ask everyone who has not gotten one of the vaccines to talk to their health care provider and strongly consider getting one.

To find out more on the vaccine as well as where to get it, click here.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report