Georgia bars local governments from imposing mask and vaccine mandates

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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday, Aug. 19, signed an executive order that prohibits local governments from ordering businesses to adopt mask or coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine mandates.

The executive order bars local officials from mandating the orders, but allows private businesses to require masks or vaccines if they want to. Kemp told reporters during a press conference that the measure is necessary to “protect” private businesses.

“There are some across our state who want to go back into lockdown mode,” the Republican governor said, citing the current indoor mask mandates in Atlanta and Savannah. “Local governments will not be able to force businesses to be the city’s mask police, the vaccine police, or any other burdensome restriction.”

Kemp tweeted that his executive order will ensure that businesses in Georgia “can’t be punished by local governments for trying to make a living, pay their employees and save their livelihoods.”

In May, Kemp also issued an executive order that essentially prohibits vaccine passports in the public sector. That order restricts public employers from requiring their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment or treating unvaccinated employees differently or adversely as compared to vaccinated employees.

Private employers in Georgia are also limited by the executive order.

If private employers in Georgia decide to implement a vaccine passport program, the order prohibits them from using data from the state’s immunization database called the Georgia Registry of Immunization Transactions and Services (GRITS). Meaning, private employers cannot verify the vaccination status of their employees through the state database.

Kemp’s recent order came just two days after New York City started to implement its vaccination requirement for a number of indoor activities, including dining, working out at fitness clubs and attending indoor performances. Employees of those venues are also required to be vaccinated.

Business owners sue NYC mayor over vaccine mandate

Business owners welcomed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s vaccine mandate with a lawsuit filed in Richmond County Supreme Court on the same day it was implemented. (Related: NYC restaurants REFUSE to enforce vaccine passport mandate and become “vaccination police.”)

“This vaccine mandate is arbitrary and capricious due to the fact that it targets certain establishments but not others,” wrote the plaintiffs, led by a group called the Independent Restaurant Owners Association Rescue. Max’s Esca, DeLuca’s Italian Restaurant, Pasticceria Rocco, Evolve-33 and Staten Island Judo Jujitsu were also listed as plaintiffs. They’re seeking a permanent injunction against the order.

According to the lawsuit, the mandate will “severely impact” the owners’ businesses, life savings and livelihood. It also noted that De Blasio’s mandate makes no exceptions for those who can’t or shouldn’t get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Staten Island Judo Jujitsu Dojo owner Joseph Cannizzo said de Blasio’s executive order is a “death sentence” to small businesses.

“For some reason, gyms, restaurants, we’re always the ones that have to take on this social responsibility to keep people safe. It’s not our job,” Cannizzo said. “My chances of survival are slim to none with all the other mandates and restrictions that Mayor de Blasio’s put on my studio. It’s a business death sentence.”

Meanwhile, restaurant owners are worried that some of their workers would quit if they are required to be vaccinated. Labor has been an ongoing challenge for the industry, with restaurants raising wages and offering retention bonuses to attract new workers. The unemployment rate for eating and drinking places was 8.4 percent nationwide in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Called “Key to NYC,” De Blasio’s scheme had an uneven start.

Fast food restaurants in Manhattan were not yet asking for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccination cards or Excelsior passes, and the AMC Village 7 movie theater in the East Village said it hadn’t been checking. A man in the East Village said he got a takeout from Chipotle with no issues. He said he was only asked for his vaccination card at a bar.

CDC: Fully vaccinated can still spread the virus

On Aug. 6, the CDC said that new data on the more infectious delta variant shows that no vaccine is 100 percent effective against it as fully vaccinated people are still capable of spreading the virus to others.

The CDC noted the delta variant seems to produce the same viral load in “both unvaccinated and fully vaccinated people,” bringing into question whether vaccine mandates are justifiable given the implications for government infringement on individual liberties.

Israel’s Ministry of Health recently reported that 64 percent of the country’s 400 COVID-19 patients in serious condition were fully vaccinated.

The country’s preliminary vaccine data published in July also found that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was just 40.5 percent effective on average at preventing symptomatic disease.

The analysis, which was carried out as the delta variant became the dominant strain in Israel, appeared to show a waning effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The vaccine was only 16 percent effective against symptomatic infection for those who had two doses back in January. For people that had received two doses by April, the efficacy rate against symptomatic infection stood at 79 percent.

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