Georgia mask feud exposes America's fault lines

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The data matches his claim: the parts of the country where the coronavirus outbreaks are now the largest are metro areas across the country’s south and west, areas with local Democratic leaders and large communities of color in states that are predominantly governed by Republicans. That’s heightened the political tension between governors like Kemp, who is playing to one constituency in the state, and Bottoms and other city leaders fighting to protect their local communities.

Kemp filed suit against Lance Bottoms and Atlanta’s city council on Thursday, arguing the city’s mask requirement violates a statewide executive order he signed Wednesday that voids local mask mandates.

The move, he said, “is on behalf of the Atlanta business owners and their hardworking employees who are struggling to survive during these difficult times.” That echoes arguments made by President Donald Trump and fellow GOP governors, who complained the country’s response has overreacted in its lockdowns and restrictions as it seeks to contain the virus, and that the economic and personal damage of lockdowns should be weighed more heavily. The rhetoric plays well with Republicans’ predominantly white political base, which have been skeptical of public health advice, a distrust fanned from within the White House.

On Tuesday, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the foremost U.S. expert on infectious disease, in a USA Today op-ed, writing that the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has been “wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.”

In an interview on the “Today Show,” Friday, Bottoms said she didn’t think it was happenstance that Kemp’s lawsuit “came the day after Donald Trump visited Atlanta,” pointing out that the president did not wear a mask at the airport. “This is the same governor who didn’t know until well into the pandemic that it could be spread by asymptomatic transmission. He didn’t go to Emory for guidance. He didn’t go to the CDC for guidance.”

Kemp and other Republican governors who pushed most aggressively to reopen communities and restart economic activity are now presiding over sharp upticks in coronavirus infections and rapidly filling hospitals. And it’s urban areas and places with large communities of color, like Atlanta, that face the toughest consequences.

Since Kemp re-opened George businesses in late April, daily cases have been on the rise, at more than 3,000 people testing positive per day. Of the more than 3,100 total reported deaths in the state, nearly half are African American, despite making up 32 percent of the population.

And Atlanta and its suburbs are at the epicenter. Fulton County, where Atlanta is based, has reported 335 deaths, while the surrounding counties of Gwinnett, DeKalb and Cobb have reported a combined 642. The area is 51 percent Black.

A Center for Disease Control study published June 17 found that 79 percent of Covid-19 patients hospitalized in the Atlanta metro area in March and April 2020 were Black.

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