Governor expected to give local governments more leeway over masks in next executive order

ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp could issue a new executive order giving local governments a little more leeway to issue mask mandates.

But Channel 2′s Richard Elliot learned that won’t include enforcing them in private businesses.

A new report out of the White House strongly recommends Georgia enact a statewide mask mandate.

Rockdale County commissioner Doreen Williams said after first just encouraging residents wear masks, they decided to make it a mandate.

“Right now seemed the best time to do this,” Williams said. “About two weeks ago, we passed a recommendation encouraging people to wear a mask but in those two weeks, the numbers have gone up quite significantly here in Rockdale County.”

The governor’s office says Rockdale’s mask mandate goes against the governor’s executive order.

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But we’ve learned his latest executive order, expected to be released before midnight Saturday, will not explicitly prevent local governments from issuing mask mandates at least on government property, but will ban those governments from enforcing them inside private businesses.

This all comes on the heels of a report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, which strongly encourages Georgia to enact a statewide mask mandate.

Friday, the governor’s office pushed back against that report, releasing what it calls a fact sheet showing the state experienced a 7% decrease in cases last week, and that the percentage of positive cases and hospitalizations is dropping as well.

“The Department of Public Health’s data differs from the data in the White House coronavirus task force report,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

Rockdale County commissioner Sherri Washington said their mandate allows people to “opt out” if they have contentious objections, but she said the ordinance is something they need.

“I always wanted an ordinance. I wanted something enforceable. I wanted something with teeth in it. To be honest, our citizens were asking for it,” Washington said.

The governor’s office insists they are still following the data and science in their response to COVID-19.

Here is the full statement from the governor’s office about the White House report:

“We continue to optimize and maximize our testing resources, as evidenced by bringing on our newest lab partner Mako, the mega-site at Hartsfield-Jackson, and our use of the National Guard to support SPOCS and mobile testing. As of August 13th, the state has reported over 1.9 million COVID-19 PCR tests, with 8 out of the last 9 days reporting more than 25,000 tests per day. The GPHL (Georgia Public Health Lab) has gone through extensive efforts to optimize their throughput by adding staff and maximizing physical space. The state stood up the university system lab consortium back in the spring to make sure we were using all available resources. As we head into fall and colleges reopen, many of those campus labs will be doing surveillance testing on their campuses.

“In addition to the federal materials that are being provided to nursing homes for rapid testing, local and district public health offices continue to partner with long-term care facilities in their communities to provide testing. Our current executive order also provides for enhanced protections for these facilities and both DCH and CMS have provided detailed guidance to facilities on how best to stop the spread of COVID-19. The state has also provided equipment (fogging machines, supplies) to facilities who wished to replicate the infection control missions done by the National Guard earlier in the year. HB 987 - which was negotiated by our office, supported by the Governor, and signed earlier this year - also implemented further oversight measures and required baseline testing for long-term care facilities.

“DCH has also completed in-person inspections of all nursing homes in the state, as required by CMS.

“The state, in consultation with the provider community and CMS, will soon be releasing further guidance on protecting our most vulnerable populations.

“The DPH lab has been working around the clock with multiple shifts since early summer. Nancy should be able to provide further details if you’d like.

“Governor Kemp continues to rely on data, science, and the public health advice of Dr. Kathleen Toomey and her team in our state’s ongoing battle against COVID-19. As the Governor has said many times before, this fight is about protecting the lives – and livelihoods – of all Georgians.”