The governor of Georgia has sued officials in the US state’s largest city, seeking to block a mandate that would require Atlanta residents to wear face masks in public as part of efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The lawsuit, filed by Republican Governor Brian Kemp on Thursday, alleges Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms does not have the authority to require stricter public health measures than the state, which has encouraged mask-wearing but not required it.
“The City of Atlanta may only exercise powers granted to it by the state, and Mayor Bottoms’ attempts to exercise an undelegated power against the state are ultra vires” or not allowed, the suit said, asking a Fulton County judge to block the executive order Bottoms issued last week.
The move came even as Georgia, one of the worst-hit states in the US, experiences a sharp increase in coronavirus cases with more than 131,000 confirmed infections and 3,105 deaths.
We will fight to stop these reckless actions and put people over pandemic politics. (4/4)
— Governor Brian P. Kemp (@GovKemp) July 16, 2020
The suit also claims Bottoms, a Democrat, does not have the authority to move the city back to a “Phase 1” state of lockdown reopening.
Kemp on Wednesday clarified his executive order to expressly block Atlanta and at least 14 other local governments across the state from requiring people to wear face coverings.
“This lawsuit is on behalf of the Atlanta business owners and their hardworking employees who are struggling to survive during these difficult times,” Kemp tweeted.
“I refuse to sit back and watch as disastrous policies threaten the lives and livelihoods of our citizens,” he said, claiming Bottoms’s moves endanger Atlanta’s economy.
Kemp’s executive order was met with defiance on Thursday by Bottoms and some other mayors, who said they would continue enforcing the mask rules.
Bottoms, who herself has tested positive for the virus, said during a video news conference on Thursday that the city’s order was still in effect.
“As of today, 3,104 Georgians have died and I and my family are amongst the 106,000 who have tested positive for COVID-19,” Bottoms said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed.
“A better use of taxpayer money would be to expand testing and contact tracing. If being sued by the state is what it takes to save lives in Atlanta, then we will see them in court.”
Public health officials have for months urged face coverings as a means to limit the outbreak, with studies highlighting that even cloth masks can reduce oral particle dispersion between 50 and 100 percent.
States such as Alabama, California, Texas and Colorado have instituted state-wide mask mandates to try to curb surging infection rates.
But mask requirements have led to friction in stores around the country, spawning numerous viral videos of irate customers clashing with retail employees.
And US President Donald Trump has mostly declined to wear a mask in public, donning one for the first time last week.
The US has the world’s highest number of confirmed infections and deaths from COVID-19, at 3,576,430 and 138,360, respectively.