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Georgia governor suspends local mask ordinances with new executive order that extends coronavirus restrictions

The new order signed by Gov. Kemp goes into effect July 16.

ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp has extended the state's coronavirus health policies again, keeping them in place until the end of the month.

The new executive order comes on July 15 - the same night that the coronavirus restrictions were set to expire. Now, they will be in place until July 31. The new order goes into effect on July 16.

Among the new provisions in the order is language that explicitly suspends local ordinances that called for the public to wear masks in public spaces, saying the ordinances are in direct conflict of the governor's order.

Cities across the metro area and across the state - from Savannah to Atlanta to East Point - passed their own mask mandates within the past week, breaking with Gov. Kemp's message that "strongly encouraged" the public to wear masks.

Kemp has repeatedly resisted calls to implement a statewide mask mandate, saying that it should not be a requirement in order for people to "do the right thing" and wear masks. Growing scientific consensus, however, shows that masks can significantly slow the community spread of the virus. 

Numerous retailers, like Walmart and Kroger, have also announced their own mask mandates.

RELATED: Coronavirus under control in 8 weeks if everyone wears masks, CDC director says

According to one legal expert, the addition of the language in the executive order is a strategic move by the governor that would leave all the mandates legally unenforceable; previous executive orders left a gray area that allowed cities and localities to pass their own mask mandates.

In a Facebook post about the executive order, Kemp once again encouraged Georgians to wear masks in public.

"To flatten the curve, I urge all local elected officials to enforce the terms of this order," the post reads. "Together, we will keep fighting #COVID19, weather this storm, and emerge stronger than ever."

Other directives in this most recent order pertain to getting students back into the classroom. 

The order allows school boards to require face masks, enforcing social distancing during all athletic, musical, or other educational activities, reduce class sizes or move them into larger or more open paces to help with social distancing and asks that school ensure ventilation systems are operating properly. 

RELATED: COVID-19 classroom concerns | Here are answers to your questions

The order also includes guidance on the renewal of weapons carry licenses.

In addition, it continues the shelter-in-place for those who are considered high risk for the virus and the ban on gatherings of 50 or more people.

The extension of the order comes as the coronavirus pandemic in Georgia has worsened considerably. On Wednesday, the state logged another 3,871 cases. Another 2,741 people are currently hospitalized - the highest it's been since the state began keeping track.

The state's public health emergency remains in effect until Aug. 11.

Read the full executive order here.

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