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Gov. Kemp claims right to challenge Atlanta mayor over mask mandate, city's guidelines

Kemp defends state lawsuit against Atlanta

ATLANTA — Governor Brian Kemp said his administration is right to challenge what he calls unenforceable pandemic rules in the city of Atlanta.  Kemp filed suit against Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms Thursday after she'd tightened the city’s guidelines a few days ago.  

Kemp said Friday the health of Georgia residents is important – but so is the health of the economy.  And he said the city’s rules were unenforceable and impeded businesses that wanted to stay open in Atlanta.

"This is about the lives and livelihoods of Georgians," Kemp said. 

Kemp’s appearance at the Capitol Friday morning highlighted the sharp rise in the number of positive COVID-19 tests – and hospitalizations throughout the state.  

But Kemp said his is a two-pronged effort – to protect lives, and to protect businesses. He said Atlanta’s new rules hurt businesses – and accused Mayor Bottoms of playing politics.

"And when you have decisions that take away someone’s ability not only to operate and create confusion, but also to have (business groups) call us saying … 'if we shut down, that money’s all gone.' That’s not the right way to handle this," Kemp said.

When asked whether he was playing politics, Kemp sidestepped the question.  

"We cannot be afraid of this virus. To be smart and be scared of it, that’s a good thing. You should wear your mask. But we also have to learn to continue to operate," Kemp said, noting that "well-meaning" people are among those calling for tighter restrictions.

"I don’t think its happenstance that this lawsuit came the day after Donald Trump visited Atlanta," Bottoms told NBC's "TODAY Show" Friday morning.

RELATED: Mayor Bottoms on Kemp's lawsuit: 'We'll see him in court'

Bottoms said she thinks President Trump’s visit Wednesday influenced Kemp to file suit. Kemp met Trump after he exited Air Force One; Trump has emphasized a need to support the economy during the pandemic.  

Bottoms’s husband Derek is among those Georgians recovering from COVID-19.

"I’m in quarantine as we speak. So, I take this very seriously," Bottoms said. "And I will continue to do everything in my power to protect the people in Atlanta. The governor has simply overstepped his bounds."

Kemp tied the rise of COVID-19 cases in Georgia to the recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations.  

"We were open for two months before this latest rise, and if you look at when it started – I think there's several reasons for that. Number one, is the demonstrations. Number two, because of the demonstrations, it sent the message to people that, 'hey, it’s all right to get out, we can let our guard down. We’ve got this thing beat.' And I think we’re all guilty of that," Kemp said.

RELATED: Georgia reaches widespread community transmission of COVID-19

But state health officials told us July 3 that they can’t tie new COVID cases to the demonstrations, noting that the demonstrators were largely wearing masks and outdoors - both of which limit the ability of the virus to spread.

Kemp said if the city had enforced social distancing rules – not just during the protests, but also in isolated instances of crowds reported at some bars and restaurants and elsewhere – that there would be no need to add the new rules it is trying to add.

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