Local governments in Georgia will not be allowed to impose vaccine or face mask mandates for businesses under a new executive order signed Thursday by Governor Brian Kemp. His order comes as the highly transmissible Delta variant is sending an influx of COVID-19 patients to local hospitals.

“Local governments will not be able to force businesses to be the city’s mask police, the vaccine police or any other burdensome restriction that will only lead to employees being let go, revenue tanking and businesses closing their doors,” Kemp said at a press conference Thursday. 

Under the executive order, local officials cannot enforce vaccine or face mask mandates, leaving it up to private businesses to issue their own requirements or comply with local COVID-19 protocols as they see fit.

“I trust hardworking Georgians to know what is best for themselves, their families and their employees and they know what is best when doing the right thing,” the governor said. 

Several cities in Georgia, including Decatur, Athens, Atlanta, and Savannah, have imposed COVID-19 protocols such as face mask mandates indoors and vaccination requirements for health professionals. 

The executive order I signed today will make sure businesses across our state can’t be punished by local governments for trying to make a living, pay their employees, and save their livelihoods.

Georgia is open for business!

Kemp’s latest order — similar to other controversial orders in Texas and Florida — comes amid a COVID-19 case surge that has overwhelmed Georgia’s hospitals.

As of Wednesday, 89% of the intensive care unit beds statewide were in use, with 96.7% of ICU beds filled in parts of Dougherty County and 95.8% of beds filled in parts of Bibb County, according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health. 

In another grim indicator of the state’s deteriorating situation, Southeast Georgia Health System-Brunswick in Glynn County installed a mobile morgue last week amid an increase in COVID-related deaths, CBS News affiliate CBS 47 reported Wednesday. 

“The situation here is becoming pretty dire,” the hospital system’s president and CEO Michael Scherneck said. 

On Thursday, Georgia reported 7,051 COVID cases and 46 deaths, the state health department reports. Just 42% of the state’s residents are fully vaccinated to date. 

While Kemp has stood firm on his opposition to government shutdowns, face mask mandates and vaccine requirements, he encouraged residents in the state to seek advice from their health professionals, “or whoever they trust the most and see about getting vaccinated if they have not already.”

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