We need to take care of people and take care of COVID-19 instead of sticking our heads in the sand.Mayor Russ Deen
GUYTON — Mayor Russ Deen said Friday that the Guyton City Council is in a fight with COVID-19, not Gov. Brian Kemp.
During a special called city council meeting Thursday, Guyton joined Atlanta and several Georgia cities that are mandating the use of masks in public buildings. The ordinance it passed unanimously also requires business owners and employees to don masks outdoors when they are engaged in face-to-face activities.
Kemp, however, in a June 15 executive order, said Georgia cities can’t issue their own mask edicts. He is suing the City of Atlanta.
“We do understand that the governor’s order directed cities and municipalities not to make rulings on this,” Deen said. “At the same time, we were putting this in the process before his order came out. I feel — and the City of Guyton feels — strongly enough about it to move forward.
“Masks have been proven to prevent COVID-19 one hundred percent when both people are using them.”
Deen cited studies by the Centers for Disease Control, Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Georgia Department of Public Health as sources for the council’s decision.
“Or just talk to public medical professionals,” he said.
Kemp has encouraged citizens to wear masks but has declined to make their use mandatory.
“The recommendation of the governor was not getting the job done, in my opinion, and we needed to do something to encourage (mask use) more,” Deen added.
Before voting Thursday, the Guyton City Council drew vociferous complaints from the audience but remained steadfast in supporting the mask ordinance.
“There were like 20 people screaming but the problem is that I don’t have a city of 20 people,” Deen said. “I have a city of 2,300 people.”
Violations of the ordinance can result in a fine of up to $1,000.
“An ordinance without teeth might as well just be thrown in the trash,” Deen said.
The mayor said the city’s objective isn’t to issue citations, however. The goal is to spark mask use.
“We have instructed our police chief (James Breletic), first and foremost, to go forth and educate,” Deen said. “We are dispensing masks to local businesses and putting up signage. Guyton is not a city of jack-booted thugs.
“We are not going to knock down doors and we’re not trying to rule with power. We are trying to convince people that we need empathy for our fellow man.”
On the day before the vote, there were 19 COVID-19 patients at Effingham Hospital.
“We need to take care of people and take care of COVID-19 instead of sticking our heads in the sand,” Deen added. “This ordinance is basically backing up our businesses and local community leaders to say, ‘Look. Everyone is going to wear marks. We are going to be safe and move forward together.”
Later, Deen said, “We shouldn’t be playing with this. There is a reason why seat belts are required. There is a reason that you are not allowed to drink and drive.”
The City of Guyton is distributing masks that it received from the Effingham County Emergency Management Agency and through the CARES (Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security) Act.
“All cities and counties in the state of Georgia received money from the CARES Act if they applied for it,” Deen said. “The money is not coming out of the general fund. It is money that is intended for this purpose.”
Guyton’s mask ordinance is set to expire Aug. 12 at 11:59 p.m.