Georgia’s Gov. Brian Kemp has stopped short of mandating the use of face masks, prompting pushback from local officials within the state.
In a Thursday morning news conference, Kemp urged Georgians to wear masks for four weeks but says he will not make the recommendation an order. A day earlier, he issued an executive order barring cities from ordering their own mask requirements.
LaGrange, Ga., Mayor Jim Thornton says he’s “disappointed” by the governor’s move.
“I realize Gov. Kemp has a very difficult job. Georgia is a big and diverse state,” he tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep. “So, I realize one size doesn’t fit all. But I wish that Gov. Kemp would set some minimum statewide standards but then allow our individual cities to make individual decisions that they need to do for themselves.”
Public health experts say wearing a mask slows the spread of the coronavirus. Kemp doesn’t deny the science, but Thornton says that, based on that public health guidance, he would implement a mask mandate for his city of some 30,000 people if Kemp would permit such an order.
“I think at this point, the medical science is very clear and the medical science supports masks,” he says.
“If you listen to the doctors at the CDC, or if you talk to primary care physicians here … these are the folks who are treating the sick and the dying here on the ground. They’re seeing how their patients were exposed and potentially exposed others. And this is what they’re recommending,” he says. “So, I’m wearing a mask in public. All of my city council members are wearing masks in public, and I think everyone should.”
At the same time, the mayor says he wouldn’t go so far as to defy Kemp issuing a mask order as Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has done.
“I’m a little bit reluctant to go there and to defy what is the governor’s clear legal mandate, until we have an opportunity for the courts to evaluate it,” he says.
Instead, he says he’s lobbying the governor for more flexibility when it comes to issuing local orders “to respond to the peculiar circumstances” across various states.
Thornton says following mask-wearing recommendations has been inconsistent in Georgia, but has become more common when the number of COVID-19 cases increase.
“We have been a little bit of a roller coaster ride locally. For the first three months, our cases in LaGrange were very low and then we had a tremendous spike the second week or so of June,” he said. “When that happened, people started wearing masks. Although it’s not universal, it is becoming very common.”
Avery Keatley and Matt Kwong produced and edited the audio for this interview.