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Mask mandates could make return as COVID numbers surge across metro Atlanta

The omicron variant is responsible for a spike in test positivity rate and case numbers in Georgia.

ATLANTA — Frank Reiss has owned A Cappella Books in Atlanta for 32 years. Reiss said he had not had any employees get infected with COVID-19, but scares were starting to crop up and family and friends have recently gotten the virus.

"We were shorthanded during the hardest days," Reiss said. "We lost two full-time, very important employees who weren't sick. But they had to stay away because family members had tested positive and they just couldn't take any chance."

There has been a overall surge in COVID cases in metro Atlanta due to the omicron variant.

Reiss is concerned about the variant, despite being boosted and vaccinated, because it may cause breakthrough COVID cases. Reiss requires masks to be worn inside the store. 

Mask mandates are starting to make a return. Last week, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued an executive order reinstating a citywide indoor mask mandate in response to rising COVID cases. Cobb County Commission Chair Lisa Cupid announced an emergency declaration, citing increased stress on local hospitals and COVID testing centers becoming overwhelmed. 

RELATED: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms reinstates citywide indoor mask mandate

As part of the county's response, Cobb is reimplementing its mask mandate for county government buildings. Private businesses, the Cobb County School District and the court complex are exempt from the mandate, which runs through Jan. 22.

One business owner in Cobb County said she wishes masks would remain optional. In the meantime, the City of Decatur and DeKalb County still have a mask mandate on the books since the beginning of the pandemic.

RELATED: Cobb County issues emergency declaration over rising COVID-19 cases

"We're seeing very steep rising cases across the state of Georgia," Dr. Jodie Guest, vice chair of epidemiology at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, said. "This is omicron taking over as the primary variant in the state of Georgia. Omicron is incredibly transmissible. Whether masks are mandated, required, or just recommended, this is where the science takes us. We should be wearing masks when we’re indoors. That is a way to keep yourself safe, the people around you safe.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Attorney Page Pate said specific mandates, based on science, should have legal standing. However, some cities, counties or businesses might fear lawsuits or a stigma associated with implementing a mask mandate. 

Pate said recent history showed any potential lawsuits would likely not hold water. Governor Brian Kemp tried to sue the City of Atlanta the first time the city imposed a mask mandate. That lawsuit was dropped, Pate said. 

Pate said it is likely cities, counties and businesses take a "wait-and-see" approach before imposing mask mandates.

“I don’t think there are any legal barriers to implementing these mask mandates on a local basis," Pate said. “I really don’t think it’s a legal issue. I think it’s a political issue.”