Earlier this month, we were critical of Gov. Brian Kemp's seemingly unrelenting stance of not allowing the elected officials of cities and counties throughout the Peach State to run their communities as they see fit.
Our disagreement with Kemp's point of view stemmed from an executive order he signed in July related to the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19). In the executive order that went into effect in July, Kemp suspended "any local laws or rules that are more restrictive than his order, including local rules or ordinances requiring people to wear masks, even on public property or in public buildings," according to The Associated Press. Masks have been shown to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
We steadfastly believe individual cities and counties should make those decisions, and that a blanket order does not allow for flexibility in areas that are experiencing a higher or lower spread of COVID-19.
We were pleased to see Kemp issue a new order this past week which allows local governments in counties that have had at least 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents to enact mandates that people wear masks while in public and indoors. While almost all of the counties in Georgia meet that standard, the governor's order lets businesses opt out of the requirement, meaning a mask ordinance can't apply to those businesses whose owners disagree with it.
There are exceptions for not wearing a mask, such as for religious or health reasons. Those who break the law are first given a warning and allowed to comply before being issued a citation (The fine can't exceed $50).
We applaud Kemp for coming around to allowing local control over containing the spread of COVID-19. Now, we will see how our local officials react.
The Dalton City Council this past Monday tabled an ordinance that would have enacted a local mask requirement that would have complied with Kemp's order
Whitfield County Board of Commissioners Chairman Lynn Laughter told this newspaper she has been talking to other commissioners and plans to put a mask mandate on a future commission meeting agenda.
"We have a work session on Monday (at 5 p.m.)," she said. "I plan to talk to (County Administrator) Mark Gibson, and if he's got anything else for us to vote on, we could have a called meeting. If he does not, we could have it on our agenda when we meet Friday morning (Aug. 28) at 9 (to set the 2020 property tax rate)."
Murray County Sole Commissioner Greg Hogan said he has no plans "at this time" to approve a mask mandate.