SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Despite Gov. Brian Kemp’s order blocking mandatory mask mandates, Savannah’s mayor says he will continue to require them.
“I’m not going to mince words,” said Mayor Van Johnson on Thursday. “We believe that Gov. Kemp is overstepping his authority. With that said, our emergency declaration still stands.”
A day prior, the governor renewed safety provisions for Georgia amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He extended the ban on gatherings of more than 50 people, renewed business restrictions and required those living in nursing homes, as well as the medically fragile, to shelter in place.
Making masks mandatory was not included.
While the order encourages residents and visitors to wear face coverings, it overrides mandatory mask ordinances made on the local level:
Any state, county, or municipal law, order, ordinance, rule, or regulation that requires persons to wear face coverings, masks, face shields, or any other Personal Protective Equipment while in places of public accommodation or on public property are suspended to the extent that they are more restrictive than this Executive Order.
Johnson responded to the governor on social media with some choice words Wednesday night.
“I may not have said it in the kindest, gentlest sweetest way, or in a way that my mother would approve of,” Johnson explained, “but it clearly and unequivocally reflected my frustration in getting our city ahead of coronavirus.”
The mayor said Savannah is going to continue to follow the science when it comes to masks in public places, citing the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Chatham County and the Coastal Empire increasing.
He also pointed to the fact that neighboring states like Florida and South Carolina have allowed local ordinances.
“The governor of Georgia has said that cities, and has specifically said, cities and counties cannot do that. And again, to me that’s overreach,” Johnson said.
Watch more from the mayor’s press conference:
Kemp’s move feels similar to the reversal on Georgia beaches back in April. On Tybee Island, leaders decided to close beaches but had to reopen after two weeks under the governor’s shelter-in-place order.
“Previous executive orders – and now this order – state no local action can be more or less restrictive than ours,” Candice Broce, a spokesperson for the governor, responded to a reporter’s tweet about the new order.
“We have explained that local mask mandates are unenforceable,” she continued. “The Governor continues to strongly encourage Georgians to wear masks in public.”
Kemp’s order could present legal issues for the Hostess City. The governor said in recent weeks that his legal team was looking into Savannah’s ordinance.
And Thursday evening, the governor and Georgia’s Attorney General Chris Carr announced a lawsuit against Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the Atlanta City Council over their mask mandate.
Johnson said the Savannah Police Department will continue to enforce the local order for individuals and businesses. He said if Kemp wants to challenge the mandate any further, the city is ready for that fight.