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Local Mask Mandates Are Now Allowed In Georgia, But There’s a Catch

Private businesses and restaurants can opt out of enforcing a local mandate

Gov. Kemp And Surgeon General Jerome Adams Announce Expanded Testing In Atlanta Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images
Beth McKibben is the editor and staff reporter for Eater Atlanta and has been covering food and cocktails locally and regionally for over 12 years.

As expected, Gov. Brian Kemp issued a new executive order on Saturday allowing local municipalities to enact mask mandates in communities across Georgia. Previous orders barred cities and counties from instituting more severe COVID-19 measures than those laid out by Kemp under his current emergency powers.

The move comes after Kemp withdrew a lawsuit his administration filed in July against Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms which challenged the city’s mask mandate and voluntary “Phase One” reopening rollback.

Kemp continues to oppose authorizing a statewide mask requirement, despite health experts agreeing that mask mandates could save lives and slow the spread of the virus.

Under the “Local Option Face Covering Requirement” portion of the order, cities and counties are permitted to impose face mask requirements in public and on government property. However, it gives the owners of restaurants and other private businesses the choice to opt out of enforcing a local mandate on their property. If enforced, people could risk up to a $50 fine after the first initial warning. No penalties will be levied against private businesses or people gathered on residential property.

These mandates can only be enacted locally if a county meets the threshold of 100 or more confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over the last 14 days. As of Sunday, Fulton County, in which the city of Atlanta resides, is currently at 286.2 confirmed cases per 100,000 people. Dekalb County to the east of Fulton County lists 290.2 confirmed cases, while Cobb County to the west lists 368.8 confirmed cases per 100,000 people over the last 14 days.

Bottoms signed an executive order in early July requiring masks inside commercial businesses (like restaurants and grocery stores) and other buildings and spaces open to the public within the city limits. The order includes Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

The order also rolls back the city’s reopening to phase one. Under the voluntary reopening guidelines, restaurants are advised to (but not required to) close dining rooms and return to takeout.

Dekalb County and the cities of Avondale Estates, Doraville, Decatur, Dunwoody, Brookhaven, College Park, East Point, and South Fulton all include mask mandates. More municipalities are expected to quickly impose face mask requirements throughout Georgia.

In cities or counties where a mask mandate is in place, Kemp’s new executive order may require businesses and restaurants to post publicly whether the establishment is enforcing the mandate or not enforcing the mandate on the property.

Stay home if sick. Check the Georgia Department of Public Health website for guidance and updates on the latest number of reported COVID-19 cases.