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ATLANTA — Atlanta's mayor says she will sign an executive order mandating masks in Georgia's largest city Wednesday, defying Gov. Brian Kemp's decision to strongly encourage but not require face coverings.
Spokesman Michael Smith said Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms plans to sign an order requiring masks, which could set up a confrontation with the Republican Kemp. The governor has already clashed with the mayor recently over policing issues, calling out the National Guard to protect state government offices after an 8-year-old girl was fatally shot by armed people at the site of a fast food restaurant where an Atlanta police officer shot and killed a Black man.
Like a number of other local leaders in Georgia, Bottoms has unsuccessfully appealed to Kemp to change his order that local governments can't exceed the state's requirements.
“Other cities have taken the approach that they are going to defy the governor’s executive order. Savannah has done it, some other cities have done it, and Atlanta is going to do it today,” Bottoms told MSNBC in a Wednesday interview. “Because the fact of the matter is that COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on our cities, specifically black and brown communities with higher death rates.”
Spokespeople for Kemp did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday. Kemp on Tuesday asked mayors and county commissioners to help him in a statewide push for voluntary masking.
“We don’t need a mandate to have Georgians do the right thing, but we do need to build strong, public support,” Kemp told mayors, according to prepared remarks released by his office.
Bottoms announced Monday that she has tested positive for COVID-19. Joe Biden has been considering the Democrat as his vice presidential running mate.
The dispute over masking is escalating a day after Georgia crossed 100,000 confirmed coronavirus infections and exceeded 2,000 people in the hospital with the COVID-19 respiratory illness.
Atlanta would not be the first Georgia locality to mandate face coverings. Savannah and the Atlanta suburb of East Point were joined Tuesday by Athens-Clarke County. At least three other Atlanta suburbs — Fairburn, South Fulton and Doraville — are considering the move. DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said Tuesday that he believes a mask mandate in his large suburban county would leave police in a legally impossible position of going against state law, but at least one DeKalb County commissioner wants a vote on the issue anyway.
Atlanta's move could be more difficult for Kemp to ignore, with the state Capitol, the governor's mansion and many state government agency headquarters inside the city. State universities earlier claimed state property was exempt from Savannah's mask order before they too decided to require masks. It's unclear if Kemp and state agencies might make the same claim about state property in Atlanta.