By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
Mask mandates appear unlikely for Cumming, Forsyth County
07012020 KEMPMASK
Gov. Brian Kemp (left) and Georgia Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey (right) embarked on a statewide tour to promote mask use on July 1, 2020. (Gov. Kemp official Twitter account)

In light of a recent executive order from Gov. Brian Kemp allowing local governments to make their own decisions about mask mandates, it does not appear officials with the city of Cumming or Forsyth County will be moving ahead with a mandate. 

Last week, Kemp issued the executive order to allow municipalities to issue mask mandates for government property and local businesses, if the owner agrees, for governments hitting certain guidelines. 

Since then, the cities of Columbus, Milledgeville, Warner Robins, Smyrna and Sandy Springs and Rockdale County have joined Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah in approving mandates, while officials in LaGrange have passed an ordinance allowing private businesses to mandate face masks.  

In Covington, the city council voted 4-2 last week in favor of not approving a mask mandate. 

As other cities and counties have made decisions, the topic has not been brought up by Cumming or Forsyth County officials in recent meetings.  

Prior to a Cumming City Council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 18, City Administrator Phil Higgins told the Forsyth County News in an email that “As of this moment the City has not discussed this subject,” and the matter was not discussed at that evening’s meeting. 

For the county, Forsyth County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Laura Semanson said in a statement that county officials have already required their employees to wear masks and are allowing local businesses to make their own decisions. 

“Since it was first detected in the United States, Forsyth County has been closely monitoring cases of COVID-19 in our community,” Semanson said. “Earlier this year we implemented procedures in all County buildings that include requiring employees to wear masks and asking anyone else who comes into a County facility to also wear a mask (which the County is providing). 

“Many private businesses in Forsyth County have also implemented a mask requirement. We respect the rights of private organizations to make decisions regarding masks at their places of business.” 

Semanson supported the governor’s office’s Georgia Safety Promise, which includes social distancing, washing hands, sanitizing surfaces and wearing a face covering, and encouraged county residents to follow those guidelines and other public health practices.  

Masks have been a hot topic in Georgia in recent months, particularly between state leaders and local governments, culminating in a since-dropped lawsuit by the state against the city of Atlanta over the city’s mask mandate.  

Rather than a mandate, the governor’s office last month launched a voluntary marketing campaign called the “Georgia Safety Promise” for businesses in the state to show they are keeping up with good social distancing, sanitizing and masking practices. Restaurants in the state, which have been battered by the virus’ economic impacts, have mostly adopted masking practices for employees and customers since being allowed to reopen in late April, said Karen Bremer, CEO of the Georgia Restaurant Association. 

Bremer, who helped launch the marketing campaign, said most Georgia restaurants have put up signs asking customers to wear masks on the premises and noted she has seen little resistance to facial coverings as restaurants seek to boost confidence that customers can dine safely. 

“What I am hearing and I am seeing anecdotally is people wearing face coverings,” Bremer said in a recent interview. “There are not many [restaurants] that are not complying with that. I think there’s a social pressure there.” 

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce also backs the mask-wearing marketing campaign as well as other cleanliness and distancing measures businesses can adopt to curb the virus’s spread. 

“We encourage businesses to wear masks, practice social distancing, train staff and act responsibly,” said Lisa Sherman, the chamber’s external affairs vice president. 

Still, a few instances of local businesses and residents opposed to wearing masks have cropped up in recent weeks. A group of residents in the Georgia city of Guyton near Savannah last month protested a mask mandate for all residents and visitors older than 11-years-old, the Effingham Herald reported. 

Also, a Gwinnett County bakery and cafe drew attention this week for placing a sign outside the premises that read, “We do not wear mask[s], we do not do social distance,” CBS46 News reported. The station reported the bakery’s staff cited personal freedom in their decision to forgo masks. 

Ultimately, as Georgia businesses weigh safety measures and ways to bring back customers, the focus should be on avoiding another widespread economic shutdown such as occurred during the statewide shelter-in-place order in April, said Clark Hungerford, president of Vinings Bank in Cobb County. 

“We cannot afford that,” Hungerford said in a recent interview. “If we shut it down again, I don’t know that we ever get it restarted. That’s my biggest fear.” 

(Beau Evans, of Capitol Beat News Service, contributed to this report.)