Georgia’s largest public transit system plans to require riders to wear masks to protect against the coronavirus, even though the governor insists that local mask orders aren’t enforceable because he hasn’t mandated them.
MARTA, the main public transit system serving Atlanta and nearby suburbs, will require that riders wear masks on trains and buses beginning Monday. Several cities within MARTA’s service area — including Atlanta, Decatur and Brookhaven — have local orders requiring that masks be worn inside public spaces. But the requirement for riders will be system-wide and apply even in areas where there is not a local mask order in effect.
A statement sent by MARTA spokeswoman Stephany Fisher on Saturday said that masks will be distributed to riders who need one. “Customers will have every opportunity to comply but violators could be suspended from riding MARTA,” the statement said.
The decision comes as Republican Gov. Brian Kemp says any local order requiring face coverings to protect against the coronavirus isn’t legally enforceable because it conflicts with state orders that recommend but don’t require masks. Kemp has resisted calls to mandate masks be worn in public despite a startling increase in confirmed cases of the virus as well as hospitalizations in recent weeks.
The Georgia Department of Public Health reported 3,190 new confirmed cases of the virus on Saturday, bringing the state’s total number of cases to more than 114,000, though experts say official counts likely only capture a fraction of those who have been infected. Nearly 3,000 people in Georgia who contracted the virus have died.
Kemp’s office announced Friday that they are reactivating a temporary hospital at the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta to address surging capacity needs.
Savannah became the first city in Georgia to order masks be worn, and several other local governments have quickly followed suit. Augusta on Friday became the latest large Georgia jurisdiction to order masks. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms recently told residents to stay home except for essential trips and for restaurants to limit themselves to takeout, in addition to ordering people to wear masks.
But Kemp tweeted Friday that those local orders are “merely guidance – both non-binding and legally unenforceable. As clearly stated in my executive orders, no local action can be more or less restrictive, and that rule applies statewide.”
Not everyone agreed with Kemp’s assessment. State Rep. Bob Trammell, a Democrat from Luthersville who is the House Minority Leader, responded on Twitter saying Kemp’s “tweet is merely posturing – both ill-considered as public policy and legally inaccurate… Governor hasn’t done an executive order on masks. City order can’t be inconsistent since Governor has done nothing.”