ATLANTA -- Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday extended Georgia's coronavirus restrictions while explicitly banning cities and counties from adopting rules requiring masks or other face coverings, a measure that could bolster the state's case in a possible legal battle.
Kemp's executive order -- which was set to expire Wednesday evening -- still encourages, rather than requires, Georgians to wear masks in public. The governor has called such a requirement "a bridge too far," and his office has said local mandates are unenforceable.
The governor's coronavirus orders have for months banned local governments from taking more restrictive or lenient steps than the state. But the new set of rules he signed on Wednesday specified for the first time that cities and counties can't require the use of masks or other face coverings.
That could improve the state's standing in a courtroom fight against a string of cities that have defied Kemp's emergency order by requiring masks. Savannah led that charge earlier this month, and since then other cities including Atlanta, Athens and Augusta have followed suit.
The governor's order also requires vulnerable people to shelter in place, restricts gatherings of more than 50 people, and mandates that restaurants and other businesses take numerous precautions.
Another significant change in the order, set to expire on July 31, is a rollback of transportation limitations for day care centers. Just about all other restrictions that were in place at the start of the month remain intact.
"We continue to watch the data and the numbers," Kemp said earlier this week. "We've got to learn to deal with it, and we're encouraging people to wear masks and follow the guidance that we have."
Hours before Kemp took action, his Republican counterpart in Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey, announced a statewide mask requirement that will take effect Thursday. Meanwhile, Walmart and Sam's Club said they would require shoppers to begin wearing masks Monday.
Also Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Twitter that New York will send 7,500 COVID-19 test kits, 30,000 pieces of personal protective equipment and 1,250 gallons of hand sanitizer to Atlanta by Friday. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who earlier this week sought the state's help amid a mounting feud with Kemp, said she was grateful.
"My mother often says, 'A friend, in need, is a friend indeed,' " she tweeted.