Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, third from left, greets President Donald arrives at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Wednesday, July 15, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Georgia gov. explicitly voids mask orders in 15 localities

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s Gov. Brian Kemp is explicitly banning Georgia’s cities and counties from ordering people to wear masks in public places.

He voided orders on Wednesday that at least 15 local governments across the state had adopted even though Kemp had earlier said cities and counties had no power to order masks.

An increasing number of other states order residents to wear masks in public, including Alabama, which announced such a ban Wednesday.

Georgia overall had nearly 128,000 confirmed infections and nearly 3,100 deaths overall as of Wednesday, although experts say many more people get the illness but are never tested.

The Republican governor has instead been trying to encourage voluntary mask wearing, including telling fans that reduced infections from mask-wearing would make college football season possible.

Kemp’s move is likely to infuriate local officials in communities that had acted, including Atlanta, Augusta, Savannah, Rome and the governor’s hometown of Athens-Clarke County. Overall, mask orders by Wednesday were covering 1.4 million of Georgia’s more than 10 million residents.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson was the first local official to defy Kemp and order masks, and had said police would start writing $500 citations to businesses that didn’t enforce the law.

“It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us,” Johnson wrote on Twitter Wednesday night. “Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can.”

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