The governor of Georgia sued officials in the US state’s largest city Thursday, seeking to block a mandate that would require Atlanta residents to wear face masks in public as part of efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The lawsuit, filed by Republican governor Brian Kemp, alleges that Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms does not have the authority to require stricter public health measures than the state, which has encouraged mask-wearing but not required it.
“The City of Atlanta may only exercise powers granted to it by the state, and Mayor Bottoms’ attempts to exercise an undelegated power against the state are ultra vires” or not allowed, the suit says, asking a Fulton County judge to block the executive orders Bottoms issued last week.
The suit also claims that Bottoms does not have the authority to move the city back to a “Phase 1” state of lockdown reopening.
“This lawsuit is on behalf of the Atlanta business owners and their hardworking employees who are struggling to survive during these difficult times,” Kemp tweeted.
“I refuse to sit back and watch as disastrous policies threaten the lives and livelihoods of our citizens,” he said, claiming that Bottoms’s moves endanger Atlanta’s economy.
“We will fight to stop these reckless actions and put people over pandemic politics.”
Bottoms, who herself has tested positive for the virus, hit back on Twitter, saying, “3104 Georgians have died and I and my family are amongst the 106k who have tested positive for COVID-19.
“Meanwhile, I have been sued by @GovKemp for a mask mandate. A better use of tax payer money would be to expand testing and contact tracing,” she tweeted.
Bottoms has framed the disagreement as a public health policy dispute, while state authorities have said they are focused on the technicalities of their parallel mandates.
“The State of Georgia continues to urge citizens to wear masks. This lawsuit is about the rule of law,” Georgia state attorney general Chris Carr tweeted Thursday evening.
Public health officials have for months urged face coverings as a means to limit the outbreak, with studies highlighting that even cloth masks can reduce oral particle dispersion between 50 and 100 percent.
States such as Alabama, California, Texas and Colorado have instituted state-wide mask mandates to try to curb surging infection rates.
But mask requirements have led to friction in stores around the country, spawning numerous viral videos of irate customers clashing with retail employees.
And US President Donald Trump has mostly declined to wear a mask in public, donning one for the first time last week.
There have been more than 131,000 COVID-19 cases in Georgia, with 3,105 deaths — one of the worst-hit states in the US, itself the worst-hit country in the world.