ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Friday urged everyone in his state to wear a mask for four weeks to halt the spread of the coronavirus but stood firm on banning state and local authorities from mandating the wearing of masks.
With the state experiencing a spike in COVID-19 infections and the country divided over expert medical advice to wear masks, the governor conceded that face coverings would help slow infections but said mandates were unenforceable and suggested they would hobble the economy.
“While we all agree that wearing a mask is effective, I’m confident that Georgians don’t need a mandate to do the right thing. I know that Georgians can rise to this challenge and they will,” Kemp told a news conference where he urged everyone to wear a mask for at least four weeks.
He also urged Georgians to voluntarily maintain physical distancing, wash their hands frequently and heed his executive order, which also calls for those measures and bans gatherings of more than 50 people for the rest of July.
The coronavirus has infected more than 3.5 million Americans and killed nearly 140,000, both figures leading the world, and cases have spiked in many states including Georgia. The country shattered a daily record on Thursday, reporting more than 77,000 new cases, according to a Reuters tally.
Kemp, a fellow Republican and supporter of President Donald Trump, issued an executive order on Wednesday suspending local regulations that require masks, and on Thursday sued the city of Atlanta to stop it from enforcing its mask mandate.
The governor said the lawsuit was filed on behalf of business owners and their employees who would be affected by what he called “disastrous policies,” contending that Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ policy would “shutter businesses and undermine economic growth.”
The Georgia conflict played out amid a wider cultural divide in the United States, in which public health experts have pleaded with politicians and the public to cover their faces to help stop the spread of infection.
Trump and his followers have resisted a full-throated endorsement of masks and have been calling for a return to normal economic activity following pandemic-induced shutdowns.
Videos on social media show people across the country irately declaring their right to shop or congregate in public without masks, with many disputing evidence that masks are effective.
Kemp’s lawsuit names as a defendant the Atlanta mayor, 50, a rising star in the Democratic Party who disclosed this month that she tested positive for the coronavirus.
“Brian Kemp does the bidding of President Trump,” Bottoms told CNN on Friday. “It’s unfortunate because meanwhile over 130,000 people in our state have tested positive for COVID-19. Over 3,100 people have lost their lives and ... this governor is taking taxpayer money to sue me personally.”