Atlanta Mayor: Okay, now that I have the virus, everyone has to wear masks

As we learned over the holiday weekend, Atlanta Mayor (and potential Biden running mate) Keisha Lance Bottoms has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Her husband has tested positive as well. While she reportedly remains asymptomatic, she maintains that she has “no idea” where or when she could have been exposed to the novel coronavirus. As I asked at the time, is it possible she might not have contracted the disease if she’d worn a mask more often? Perhaps she’s taken that possibility to heart because it was announced this week that she was signing an order to make masks mandatory in her city. And yesterday she did just that. (Fox 5 Atlanta)

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an executive order Wednesday evening, mandating the use of masks throughout the city.

The order requires anyone within city limits and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, to wear a mask or a cloth face covering over their nose and mouth, except those with a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a face mask or are under the age of 10.

“We will continue to take active measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19 infections in Atlanta. Public health experts overwhelmingly agree that wearing a face covering helps slow the spread of this sometimes deadly virus,” Mayor Bottoms said in a statement.

This is going to present some complications for the state of Georgia with potential implications for the rest of the country as well. The timing of the order isn’t really the issue here, though it certainly doesn’t present a very good look. Large parts of the rest of the country are in the process of opening back up, though many have had mask orders in place for some time. But now, in July, Atlanta is issuing its first mask mandate? There’s something here about horses and barn doors coming to mind.

But as I suggested, that’s not the real sticking point. The potential problem is that Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has already issued an executive order of his own. As NPR reported on Tuesday, that mandate forbids local governments from ordering their own health policies. Neither of these orders has ever been taken up by the legislatures in question, so it’s a face-off between executive branches at the state and municipal level.

Much as we have since the beginning of the pandemic, we’re once again seeing tests of the extraordinary executive powers being exercised up and down the line without the benefit of legislative oversight or participation. What are Atlanta residents supposed to do now that their Mayor and their Governor have essentially issued directly conflicting orders that carry the force of law? And perhaps more to the point, if the Governor can override the authority of the mayors and county executives around the state, can the President of the United States override the power of the governors? Considering Donald Trump’s appetite for ramming through solutions rapidly, one could only imagine what would happen if he starts a series of battles with the governors of the blue states.

Executive orders are supposed to be reserved for emergency situations where fast action is required to prevent or lessen the impacts of impending disasters. We’ve known about the novel coronavirus for months. There has been plenty of time for the state legislature of Georgia and/or the City Council of Atlanta to consider this matter and put some regulations in place about personal protective medical gear and other virus suppression measures. Such laws could easily have been crafted with expirations dates for the mandates, allowing for extensions if the threat persists. Instead, we have a battle of wills between executives issuing their own conflicting orders. All I’m saying here is that this is no way to run an organization.