Gov. Brian Kemp wears a mask.
Gov. Brian Kemp at the beginning of a statewide tour urging Georgians - but not requiring them - to wear a mask.
Credit: Stephen Fowler / GPB News

Gov. Brian Kemp signed executive orders Friday night that extend a series of COVID-19 health and safety precautions, including a ban on local governments seeking to take stronger action than the state by requiring face coverings in public.

The public health state of emergency, which grants Kemp broad powers to fight the coronavirus, is also extended through September 10. 

Georgia has continued to be a hotspot for COVID-19, with hospitals across the state stretched thin by both coronavirus and non-coronavirus patients. At different times this week, several regions in the state reported as few as one open intensive care bed while the total number of COVID-19 patients in Georgia hospitals are at an all-time high, according to a state dashboard.

Kemp's order still requires restaurants and other businesses to abide by multi-point health and safety standards, but much of the new language sprinkled throughout the 45-page order has shifted to more aggressively assert the singular authority of the governor to set policy in the state.

"To ensure the public's safety and prevent confusion, it is necessary for the state's departments, agencies, and political subdivisions to provide a coordinated response to support the Governor's emergency management rules, regulations and orders," one section reads. 

Other sections frequently cite Georgia code § 38-3-51, which deals with emergency powers the governor can use.

While coronavirus cases have continued to explode in parts of Georgia, more than a dozen mayors have gone against the governor's orders and approved mask mandates in an effort to curb infection rates. Kemp, however, is only strongly encouraging residents to wear a mask and has called mandates "unenforceable."

In addition to enacting a mask order, the city of Atlanta, where Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has been the most vocal critic of Georgia's response, also announced a rollback to phase one of its voluntary reopening guidelines, leading the governor to sue the city.

Negotiations in that suit are ongoing, but the legal showdown targeting Atlanta instead of Athens, Augusta, Savannah, Guyton or other municipalities has further inflamed criticism of Kemp's pandemic leadership.