Coronavirus: Georgia governor bars cities, counties from ordering people to wear masks

What You Need To Know: Brian Kemp

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday banned cities and counties from adopting rules to mandate that people wear masks or other face coverings as the number of novel coronavirus cases continues to rise in the state.

The ban was included as part of an extension Wednesday of the state’s COVID-19 guidelines, WSB-TV reported. The order requires people to practice social distancing statewide and encourages, but does not mandate, people wear masks or face coverings.

The executive order invalidated mask mandates issued in at least 15 local governments statewide, The Associated Press reported. Among them was an order that went into effect July 1 in Savannah requiring that people wear face coverings in public or face a $500 fine, according to WTOC-TV.

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“It is officially official,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson wrote Wednesday in a Twitter post. “Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us. Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can.”

Kemp was among the first governors to ease earlier restrictions, and while infections declined for weeks afterwards, they began to rise in June. Wednesday’s numbers showed nearly 2,800 people hospitalized statewide with the COVID-19 respiratory illness, the highest on record and a number that’s nearly doubled since the beginning of the month. The state reports 84% of hospitals’ available critical beds are in use, although some hospitals say they have opened up more space and have more room.

Georgia overall had nearly 128,000 confirmed infections and nearly 3,100 deaths as of Wednesday, although experts say many more people get the illness but are never tested. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. Most recover, but some can become severely ill or die.

More than 3.4 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the U.S. since the pandemic began, according to numbers compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. leads the world with the most coronavirus cases and the highest number of deaths with more than 137,000 killed by the viral infection, according to Johns Hopkins.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.