Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp issued an executive order banning cities and counties from implementing face mask requirements, Newsweek reported.
At the same time, Kemp's executive order renewed a limit on gatherings of 50 people or more, strongly encouraged people to wear face masks in public, and emphasized measures to be taken by restaurants and providers of essential services to maintain social distancing.
Kemp does not view mask mandates as legally enforceable and is not allowing local actions on the matter to be more restrictive than state orders. Kemp not only encourages masks, but also wears one himself in public.
The Associated Press reported that at least 15 local governments in Georgia had begun requiring masks to slow the spread of the virus. Now, some of those local leaders are angry with Kemp's order.
"It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us," Mayor Van Johnson of Savannah wrote on Twitter Wednesday. "Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can."
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms had also required masks in the city. The governor's office was openly critical of that move.
"Like all of the local mask mandates, Mayor Bottoms' order is unenforceable," Kemp spokeswoman Candice Broce told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a statement. "We continue to encourage Georgians to do the right thing and wear a mask voluntarily. If the Mayor wants to flatten the curve in Atlanta, she should start enforcing the current provisions of the Governor's orders."
Kemp's own words and actions clearly indicate that he believes masks help in some way to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. But he has stated in the past that he believes making masks voluntary is more effective than mandates.
"We don't need a mandate for people to do the right thing," Kemp told reporters earlier this month, CNN reported.
Kemp's aggressive action against mask mandates is contrasted with other Republican governors, such as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who have issued statewide mask mandates as COVID-19 cases and positivity rates rise in some areas of the southern United States.
Ivey agrees that mask mandates are difficult to enforce, but believes they are worth the trouble.
"I still believe this is going to be a difficult order to enforce, and I always prefer personal responsibility over a government mandate," Ivey said at a Wednesday press conference announcing Alabama's mandate. "Yet I also know, with all my heart, that the numbers and data the past few weeks are definitely trending in the wrong direction."