Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order Thursday to prevent local officials from requiring businesses to enact Covid-related mandates and other restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Kemp urged unvaccinated Georgians to speak with trusted sources and "see about getting vaccinated if they have not already."
"But Georgians know the risk of Covid-19, and they also know how to go about their lives," he said. "That's why the executive order I signed today will ensure that businesses cannot be forced to follow local government ordinances regarding Covid-19. Local governments will not be able to force businesses to be the city's mask police."
Multiple Georgia localities mandated masks as surging cases and hospitalizations were attributed to the highly infectious delta variant. Kemp's order does not prohibit businesses from enacting their own mask requirements, capacity limits or vaccination mandates.
With the delta variant surging across the South, Georgia has recorded its highest case counts and hospitalization totals since late January. The state has one of the country's lowest vaccination rates, with less than 40 percent of the population having been fully inoculated, according to an NBC News tracker.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that intensive care units across the state are overflowing with Covid patients, with more than 90 percent of ICU beds occupied in 10 of the 14 hospital regions in the state. In addition, the newspaper reported that at least 19 school districts have temporarily pulled back on fully in-person learning as the school year gets underway with the virus resurgent and children under 12 unable to be vaccinated.
Rebecca Galanti, spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Georgia, said in a statement, "As public health officials, parents, and Georgians at large beg Kemp to take action to combat the current COVID-19 surge in our state, the only action he is apparently willing to take is one that will help COVID-19 spread in Georgia and undermine local efforts to control the virus."
Kemp, a Republican, is among several GOP governors who have moved to limit the authority of city and county officials to implement new mask mandates and vaccination requirements in recent months.