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In addition to our normal news coverage, What Now Atlanta is tracking ways Atlanta’s businesses are adapting to the novel coronavirus and the challenges it brings to brick-and-mortars.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Wednesday evening signed an Executive Order mandating that residents wear masks in public joining Athens, East Point, and Savannah in defying Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp who is only “urging”Georgians to wear face coverings rather than requiring it. The Order also prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people in the City.
“We will continue to take active measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19 infections in Atlanta,” Mayor Bottoms said in a press release after the order was signed. “Public health experts overwhelmingly agree that wearing a face-covering helps slow the spread of this sometimes deadly virus.”
The C.D.C. recommends “that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings when around people outside of their household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”
The City of Atlanta plans to provide face coverings to the general public through funding under the CARES Act. The face coverings will be available at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, City of Atlanta homeless partners’ facilities and shelters, and food pick-up locations. Atlanta Fire and Rescue will also work with community partners on the distribution of face coverings to Atlanta residents.
Kemp’s emergency powers superseded that of local municipalities but it seems unlikely that the Governor will block or challenge the Mayor’s order based on comments he made Tuesday.
“I realize that many on this call have different opinions on the appropriate response to this pandemic, and that’s fine,” Kemp said in a conference call Tuesday with officials of local municipalities. “But we all agree that masks are good and can help stop the spread. We all know that social distancing makes it hard for the virus to travel. We agree that handwashing can limit exposure. So instead of mandates, I’m asking you to join me in raising awareness.”
Under the Executive Order, “all persons within the jurisdiction of the City of Atlanta shall wear a mask or a cloth face covering over the nose and mouth when inside a commercial entity or other building or space open to the public, or when in an outdoor public space, wherever it is not feasible to maintain appropriate social distancing from another person not in the same household.”
There are some exceptions to who has to wear masks under this mandate: any person younger than ten; any person with a medical condition or disability that prevents the wearing or a mask or face covering; any person while the person is consuming food or drink, or is smoking; any person while the person is in a personal motor vehicle; any person obtaining a service that requires temporary removal of the mask or face covering for security surveillance, screening, or a need for specific access to the face, such as while visiting a bank or while obtaining a personal care service involving the face or head, but only to the extent necessary for the temporary removal; any person while the person is in a swimming pool; any person who is voting, assisting a voter, serving as a poll watcher, or actively administering an election; any person while the person is speaking for a broadcast or to an audience.
There isn’t currently a penalty for violating the order, the Mayor’s office confirmed in an email to What Now Atlanta.
“I specifically asked our governor about allowing Atlanta to go forward with mandating masks in our city, he refused,” Bottoms told MSNBC Wednesday morning ahead of signing the mandate. “Other cities have taken the approach that they are going to defy the governor’s executive order and Savannah has done it, some other cities have done it and Atlanta is going to do it today.”
The order arrives a few days after Bottoms announced both she and her husband tested positive for COVID-19.
[Editor’s note: The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is rapidly evolving as is its effect on Atlanta, and the City’s businesses and its residents. Click here for What Now Atlanta’s ongoing coverage of the crisis. For guidance and updates on the pandemic, please visit the C.D.C. website.]