ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp issued an executive order Thursday prohibiting local governments in Georgia from imposing mask, vaccine or building-capacity mandates aimed at discouraging the spread of COVID-19.

This story also appeared in Capitol Beat News Service

The cities of Atlanta and Savannah reinstated mask mandates late last month for public indoor spaces, citing a rise in cases of the virus driven by the highly contagious delta variant.

Some school districts in Georgia also are requiring students and teachers to wear masks inside school buildings.

While Kemp has supported letting individual school systems make those decisions, he said his executive order is aimed at businesses.

“Small businesses across our state should not be punished by local governments,” he said. “Just as our economy is starting to return to normal, small businesses cannot survive another shutdown.”

Kemp said Thursday’s order is in keeping with his commitment throughout the course of the pandemic to protect “both lives and livelihoods.”

Thanks to that stand, Georgia has been able to reduce unemployment and experience record job growth while still prioritizing seniors vulnerable to coronavirus and seeing to the needs of hospitals and schools, he said.

“I trust hardworking Georgians to know what’s best for themselves, their families and their employees,” he said.

With cases of COVID-19 rising in Georgia to the point of straining hospital emergency rooms and ICUs, Kemp has taken heat in recent weeks from critics calling on the governor to take a more forceful stand against the virus.

“It’s bad enough that Brian Kemp has refused to implement any statewide measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Georgia – now, he is forbidding local governments from protecting their own communities,” said Rebecca Galanti, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Georgia.

“As public health officials, parents, and Georgians at large beg Kemp to take action to combat the current COVID-19 surge in our state, the only action he is apparently willing to take is one that will help COVID-19 spread in Georgia and undermine local efforts to control the virus.”

Georgia passed the 1 million mark in confirmed cases of the virus this week. As of Thursday afternoon, 69,797 Georgians had been hospitalized with COVID-19 and the virus was responsible for 22,151 confirmed or probable deaths, the state Department of Public Health reported.

Georgia and other Southern states also continued to lag behind the nation in COVID-19 vaccination rates.

This story available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Dave Williams/Capitol Beat

Dave Williams is bureau chief for Capitol Beat News Service, a service of the Georgia Press Education Foundation.