ATLANTA — Georgia’s governor, who has opposed local mask mandates and even sued over one in Atlanta, has signed a new executive order that allows local governments to enact mask requirements to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.
As with previous orders, the one issued Saturday says residents and visitors of the state are “strongly encouraged” to wear face coverings when they are outside of their homes, except when eating, drinking or exercising outside. But unlike previous orders, this one allows local governments in counties that have reached a “threshold requirement” to require the wearing of masks on government-owned property.
A county meets that threshold requirement if it has had 100 or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people over the previous 14 days.
Local mask mandates cannot result in fines, fees or penalties against private businesses or organizations, and penalties against individuals for non-compliance cannot included a fine greater than $50 and cannot include prison time, the order says. If people are not in compliance, local authorities must warn them “about the health risks posed by not wearing a face mask or face covering” prior to issuing a citation.
Gillsville Mayor Roy Turpin said the city had no immediate plans to issue a mandate, but “the people around here will probably do what’s right” and officials would monitor the situation. Clermont Mayor James Nix said Clermont also had no definite plans to require masks on its properties but was looking at its options. Braselton Town Manager Jennifer Scott said Braselton encourages but does not require masks in city buildings. Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin said the mayor and City Council had not yet taken a position, but the city encourages people to follow public health guidelines.
Gainesville is encouraging precautions but has not issued a mask mandate at city facilities.
“We continue to monitor this situation to be prepared, and still highly encourage the citizens of and visitors to Gainesville to follow Gov. Brian Kemp’s guidance to wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash/sanitize your hands regularly and follow public health guidance regarding COVID-19,” City Manager Bryan Lackey said in a statement.
Hall County is not requiring masks for visitors at its facilities but does encourage them.
“We continue to encourage the public to wear masks, and we require our employees to wear masks in public spaces when in public buildings,” county spokeswoman Katie Crumley said in an email. “Masks are also available at government facilities for the public should they request a mask.”
Masks are required in Flowery Branch city buildings.
“Employees can take off their masks in their office or their work station, if they are more than 6 feet away from co-workers, but anytime we get close to each other or have guests come in the building, we all wear masks,” City Manager Bill Andrew said in an email. “We are also eating lunch alone.”
In Oakwood, visitors are required to wear masks at City Hall. City Manager B.R. White said employees can take theirs off if they are social distancing or in their own office. Visitors’ temperatures are taken before they enter, White said.
Local mask requirements can’t be enforced on residential property and can only be enforced on private property, including businesses, if the owner or occupant consents to enforcement, the order says.
“This order also protects Georgia businesses from government overreach by restricting the application and enforcement of local masking requirements to public property,” Kemp said in a news release accompanying the order, which is in effect through Aug. 31. “While I support local control, it must be properly balanced with property rights and personal freedoms.”
Additionally, the order extends shelter-in-place requirements for people who meet certain criteria that result in “higher risk of severe illness,” including people in nursing homes or long-term care facilities, people with certain chronic health conditions and those with compromised immune systems or other underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to the coronavirus.
It also continues to ban gatherings larger than 50 people if people are closer than 6 feet apart and imposes specific operating guidelines on bars, restaurants and other businesses.
Kemp, a Republican, last month sued Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat, and the Atlanta City Council after Bottoms made statements that the governor said some interpreted as orders for restaurants to close and ordered masks. Kemp dropped the lawsuit Thursday.
Atlanta was one of a number of cities that issued orders requiring masks to be worn, despite Kemp’s arguments that local governments can’t impose measures that are more or less restrictive than those in his statewide executive orders.
Times reporters Jeff Gill and Megan Reed contributed to this report.