Coronavirus (Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

ATLANTA – The Democratic mayors of four Georgia cities are asking Gov. Brian Kemp to impose a mask mandate inside state buildings to show he is interested in the health of Georgians as well as the economy.

An open letter sent to the Republican governor Friday by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson and Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz came one day after Kemp issued an executive order prohibiting local governments from imposing any restrictions related to COVID-19.

Kemp cited the need to protect small businesses from government interference.

“As mayors representing nearly 10% of Georgia’s population, we understand all too well how important it is to keep our small business owners prosperous,” the letter stated. “At the same time, our business owners … have also asked us repeatedly to ensure that their workers and customers can be safe throughout our communities.”

The letter went on to argue that while Kemp may find it politically expedient to side with supporters of former President Donald Trump who oppose mask or vaccine mandates, the mayors are more concerned with protecting the health of Georgians who, they argued, overwhelmingly support smart public health measures to fight the spread of coronavirus.

At a news conference Thursday, Kemp said he has no problem with business owners who wish to require mask wearing or vaccinations for their employees and customers. However, he said he opposes local governments dictating to those business owners.

“Local governments will not be able to force businesses to become the mask police or vaccine police,” he said after issuing the order.

Georgia passed the 1 million mark this week for confirmed cases of COVID-19. As of Thursday afternoon, 69,797 Georgians had been hospitalized with COVID-19 and the virus was responsible for 22,151 confirmed or probable deaths, the state Department of Public Health reported.