Georgia mask debate ensnares Trump as Kemp battles Atlanta

Brian Kemp

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp looks on during a coronavirus briefing at the Capitol Friday, July 17, 2020, in Atlanta. Kemp sued the city of Atlanta over its face-mask requirement just after President Donald Trump arrived in the city without wearing a mask, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Friday. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s governor and the mayor of its largest city accused each other of playing politics Friday amid an escalating fight over face masks intended to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

The battle over masks in a state with rapidly rising cases of COVID-19 erupted into a public fight as Atlanta and more than a dozen other cities and counties defied Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and issued local orders requiring masks be worn in public spaces.

The dispute ratcheted up several notches this week, leading to tough talk from both the governor and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Friday, who accused President Donald Trump of violating the city’s mask requirement.

On Wednesday, Kemp issued an executive order that explicitly voided local mask requirements. That same day, Trump arrived in Atlanta for a visit without wearing a mask. Then Thursday, Kemp sued the city of Atlanta to block it from enforcing a mask mandate and other rules related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bottoms stuck to her guns in an interview Friday on CBS “This Morning,” questioning the timing of the lawsuit and calling out Trump for landing in Atlanta without wearing a mask.

“I pointed out that Donald Trump violated that order when he landed at our airport and did not wear a mask,” she said. She declined to say that Trump was behind Kemp’s lawsuit but said the president “was violating the rules of our city in just a blatant disregard for the science.”

The White House said the president and all who get close to him get tested.

“The President takes the health and safety of everyone traveling in support of himself and all White House operations very seriously,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said. “When preparing for and carrying out any travel, White House Operations collaborates with the Physician to the President and the White House Military Office, to ensure plans incorporate current CDC guidance and best practices for limiting COVID-19 exposure to the greatest extent possible.”

A spokeswoman for Kemp said the lawsuit had no connection with Trump’s visit.

Georgia has had more than 135,000 confirmed cases of the virus, though experts say that many more people are likely infected but never tested. At least 3,130 people have died in Georgia after contracting the virus. The state has seen a sharp increase in confirmed cases and in hospitalizations in recent weeks.

Kemp defended the lawsuit during a press conference Friday morning, accusing Atlanta officials of playing politics and not enforcing state orders already in effect.

The lawsuit was filed “on behalf of business owners, their employees and hardworking Georgians throughout the region who continue to struggle to make ends meet,” Kemp said.

“Mayor Bottoms’ mask mandate cannot be enforced, but her decision to shutter businesses and undermine economic growth is devastating,” Kemp said.

Bottoms announced last week that Atlanta would return to the first phase of its coronavirus reopening plan, saying that the state had reopened in a “reckless manner.” That includes limiting restaurants to take-out only and retail stores to curbside pickups.

Bottoms later said those are recommendations, tweeting Thursday that Kemp “is suing Atlanta over RECOMMENDED guidelines.” But she maintains that the city’s mask mandate is in effect and will continue to be enforced.

“We will have to fight the governor about this in court,” she said Friday.

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Associated Press Writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed.

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