ATLANTA (AP) — The mayors of some of Georgia’s largest cities are slamming Gov. Brian Kemp’s new order that aims to limit local efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic.
In an open letter on Friday, the mayors of Atlanta, Savannah, Athens-Clarke County and Augusta-Richmond County suggested the Republican governor was putting politics above public health.
The four Democrats also defended masks as necessary during the state’s latest COVID surge.
Kemp signed an executive order Thursday that says cities cannot require businesses and sports teams to enforce local pandemic restrictions.
The move came amid an explosion in COVID cases fueled by the delta variant among those who are unvaccinated.
Read the full letter below, given to WSAV by Mayor Van Johnson.
Amidst all the intense challenges converging at this critical moment in time – the need for housing, employment, education, healthcare and economic opportunity, all while the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus brings a new flood of patients to hospitals’ emergency rooms and intensive care beds – Governor Kemp declared this week that Georgia’s local governments cannot set mask mandates in their jurisdictions. He frames this stance as a bid to support small businesses. As Mayors representing nearly ten percent of Georgia’s population, we understand all too well how important it is to keep our small business owners prosperous. They are our friends, neighbors and family members, and our cities rely upon their success to support public safety, public health, and infrastructure needs. At the same time, our business owners seek a level playing field among local outfits and national brands, and as employers struggling to maintain a healthy environment, they have also asked us repeatedly to ensure that their workers and customers can be safe throughout our communities.
While Governor Kemp may find it politically necessary to hew to the course of others who live in the shadow of the former president, we are more concerned with the health and livelihood of friends we see in the grocery store, at the schools where we bring our children each morning, and who we encounter as we head into work. They overwhelmingly articulate support for the smart, tested public health measures that we have promoted for the past eighteen months. Certainly, the endgame for statewide success is getting the vast majority of our state’s population vaccinated, but we are not there yet. Less than half of eligible residents of Georgia are now vaccinated. Children and young adults under thirty have overtaken seniors in prevalence of new COVID-19 cases. Some hospitals are so overwhelmed that they are setting up temporary facilities in tents. But working together, we can keep an even greater wave of pain and difficulty at bay.
Around the globe, it has been well documented that cloth masks keep others around us safer, should any of us should become infected with COVID-19. We know that it is possible to be infected without symptoms, even if we are already vaccinated. Nobody wants to be a vector for infections and unwittingly harm a co-worker, a friend, or a loved one. Asking others to mask is no different than asking motorists to stop at a red light or asking residents keep a dog on a leash at the park. It is the neighborly approach that we were all raised to follow. And given this challenging moment for our healthcare system, it is the necessary move. If we can keep more of our hospital beds empty, that allows quality care for anyone when they have a sudden slip or fall, or have a traffic accident, or experience any medical crisis. Reports from the last week note hours-long waits in emergency rooms throughout the state, and simple preventative measures like mask wearing can reduce this burden. Rather than seeking prohibitions on masking, Governor Kemp should set the expectation that masks will be worn at state institutions under his purview to demonstrate his interest in the long-term health of our populous, and of Georgia’s economy.
-Keisha Lance Bottoms, Mayor of Atlanta
-Hardie Davis, Mayor of Augusta-Richmond County
-Kelly Girtz, Mayor of Athens-Clarke County
-Van R. Johnson, II, Mayor of Savannah