Georgia governor urges people to wear masks but opposes a mandate

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump is greeted by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp as he arrives at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., July 15, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

(Reuters) – Georgia Governor Brian Kemp on Friday urged all people in his state to wear masks for four weeks to halt the spread of the coronavirus but refused to back down on his position banning state and local authorities from mandating the wearing of masks.

With the state experiencing a spike in COVID-19 infections, Kemp issued an executive order on Wednesday suspending local regulations requiring masks, then sued the city of Atlanta on Thursday to stop it from enforcing its mask mandate.

“While we all agree that wearing a mask is effective, I’m confident that Georgians don’t need a mandate to do the right thing. I know that Georgians can rise to this challenge and they will,” Kemp told a news conference.

The state’s lawsuit alleges Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms lacked the authority to require masks and contended she must follow Kemp’s executive orders.

“Mayor Bottoms’ mask mandate cannot be enforced, but her decision to shutter businesses and undermine economic growth is devastating,” Kemp said. “Atlanta businesses are hurt, violent crime is up and families are rightfully worried.”

The Georgia conflict played out amid a wider cultural divide in the United States, in which public health experts have pleaded with politicians and the public to cover their faces to help stop the spread of infections, while President Donald Trump and his supporters have been calling for a return to normal economic activity and have played down the urgency for masks.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Peter Szekely; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller)

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