ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp, on Friday, continued to reject the argument that a mask mandate would solve Georgia's mushrooming COVID-19 outbreak, saying such a policy would be unenforceable, for all practical purposes.
He also made the point that it would be one more regulation among a number of existing rules that already aren't being well-enforced.
The governor has taken the stance that existing regulations that have been established by his executive orders - which include stringent, detailed distancing requirements for businesses, gatherings, and activities - would go a long way to stopping spread if they were more strictly enforced.
While he personally supports wearing a mask and said "we all agree that wearing a mask is effective," he nonetheless believes "Georgians don’t need a mandate to do the right thing."
He said he's heard from law enforcement agencies who don't believe they have the manpower to enforce a mandate. He analogized a mask mandate to speed limit laws, and said: "We have people that don’t follow government laws and mandates."
"But when you have existing executive orders that have been on the books for weeks and months now, that the local elected officials asked me for enforcement powers early on so they can enforce when they were so worried about this - they now have not been doing that," Kemp said. "So to add another mandate that’s not gonna be enforced in communities that haven’t enforced other orders, in my opinion, is a failed policy."
He added: "What kind of message does it send when you have mandates already that people aren’t enforcing? It sends the message that the mandate doesn’t mean anything."
The issue has caused a significant public split between him and some Georgia mayors, most prominently Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. The mayor issued a mask ordinance last week and has staunchly maintained it is defensible, with the governor responding Thursday with a lawsuit to block it.
The governor singled out Atlanta as one of the cities where he feels his existing regulations have not been taken seriously enough.
"The mayor can instruct the police department if she thinks there's a problem in bars in Atlanta. Our bars are under a 35 percent occupancy capacity, we haven't moved that since we opened, and the reason we have that policy is because we believe that with that occupancy level and the other regulations we have for bars, and restaurants too, that people can socially distance and they can be smart about doing those things," he said. "We also know that we've had 400 and 500 people in the middle of the streets in downtown Atlanta with people doing donuts with cars, and that’s way over the 50 person gathering ban, and nobody bothered to respond to that, so I think we've got to be consistent about what we're doing."
He said "we need to double down" on the existing rules, "because it's worked before and it'll work again."
"We cannot be afraid of this virus. To be smart, to be scared of it? That's a good thing, so you should wear your mask," the governor said. "But we also have to learn to continue to operate. And I will tell you that there's many businesses that have been able to do that for months now and have not had any problems."