ATLANTA — Governor Brian Kemp, on Saturday, announced the extension of an order that will now allow local states, cities, counties, and other government entities to impose mask requirements.
The latest order goes into effect on Sunday at 12 a.m. and remains in effect until Aug. 31. In the order, Kemp said that the orders can be imposed wherever a county has reached a "Threshold Requirement" meaning they have more than 100 cases per 100,000 people over the previous 14 day period.
Furthermore, the rules can generally only be enforced on a government-owned property or private property where the owner or occupant consents to enforcement. Those locations may also be required to post a sign showing they consent to mask enforcement.
The masking requirement also can't give rise to penalties, criminal or otherwise, against a private business, establishment, corporation, non-profit corporation, or organization. And the owners, directors, officers, or agents of any of the above are not to be held liable for the failure of customers to comply with mask requirements.
Individual offenders may face a fine of up to $50 but there are several situations where they cannot be cited. Exemptions to the mask rule include people who are eating or drinking, those who have difficulty putting on or removing a mask on their own, those with religious objections to covering their faces, or those with a medical reason for not wearing a mask. Mask wearing can also not be a requirement for entering a polling place.
The governor's office had signaled Friday Kemp would be allowing localities such leeway, with 11Alive's Joe Henke reporting that the administration sought to craft the order so that it would protect private businesses.
The governor's latest order comes after a drawn-out, testy public battle with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who has become a vocal, and nationally visible, critic of Kemp's COVID policies.
She followed after cities such as Savannah and Athens instituted their own mask mandates by issuing one in Atlanta at the end of June.
Following the issuance of Bottoms' mandate, Kemp issued a statewide order, explicitly suspending all local mask orders in Georgia.
Bottoms countered, rejecting Kemp's order, saying her mandate would stand.
The governor took the next step of suing the mayor and the Atlanta City Council to invalidate that citywide order, which most contentiously applied to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
The mayor implied she felt the governor was singling out Atlanta, among a number of localities around the state that had issued mask requirements, because she called out President Trump for not wearing a mask at the airport when he made an appearance there in mid-July.
"Then suddenly the governor has taken a formal position on masks in the state of Georgia," Bottoms said at the time.
The two seemed to put aside their differences, at least momentarily, in the wake of the deaths of C.T. Vivian and John Lewis, when both made appearances at tributes for the iconic Civil Rights leaders who died the same day last month.
The two were ordered by a court into mediation at that time, a process that apparently did not bridge their divide.
Kemp withdrew his lawsuit on Thursday, promising the executive action to address the mask issue.
He said they had reached an agreement to "abandon the city's Phase One roll-back plan, which included business closures and a shelter in place order" but that they could not come to a full settlement.
He criticized the mayor for what he characterized as not prioritizing "a settlement that safeguards the rights of private property owners in Georgia."
She called his explanation of events sought to "intentionally mislead" people with a "woefully inaccurate" account, and that "my only goal has been to help save lives."
A new 11Alive News/SurveyUSA Poll this week indicated that a significant majority of Georgians - 62 percent - feel that wearing masks in all indoor public places in the state should be mandatory.