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As Coronavirus Cases Surge, Georgia Gov. Sues to Stop Atlanta Mayor From Requiring Masks in Public

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As Coronavirus Cases Surge, Georgia Gov. Sues to Stop Atlanta Mayor From Requiring Masks in Public
L: Georgia Governor Brian Kemp on Jan. 26, 2019. U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Tori Miller. R: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on March 27, 2019. Netherlands Embassy / CC BY 2.0

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp sued the Atlanta City Council and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms Thursday to block a city-wide order requiring face masks in public, in the latest example of how public health has been politicized as coronavirus cases continue to surge across the U.S.


Kemp argued that the Atlanta rule is not "legally enforceable" because he signed an executive order prohibiting municipalities from enacting stricter requirements than the state, CNN reported. On Wednesday, he signed an executive order suspending all local mask mandates.

"It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us," Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, whose city also requires masks, tweeted in response to Wednesday's order. "Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can."

Kemp's justifications for the lawsuit were largely economic. In the text of the lawsuit itself, Kemp argued that Atlanta's mask rule created uncertainty for people and businesses and would cause people to "suffer immediate and irreparable harm," CBS News reported. He said some Atlanta restaurants had closed because they thought it was necessary to escape enforcement measures.

"This lawsuit is on behalf of the Atlanta business owners and their hardworking employees who are struggling to survive during these difficult times," he tweeted Thursday. "These men and women are doing their very best to put food on the table for their families while local elected officials shutter businesses and undermine economic growth."

Bottoms, meanwhile, who has herself tested positive for the virus, defended her order on public health grounds.

"Public health experts overwhelmingly agree that wearing a face covering helps slow the spread of this sometimes deadly virus," she said during a press conference Thursday, as NPR reported. "It's a simple thing to do."

She also responded to the lawsuit on Twitter, noting that 3,104 Georgians had died of the virus so far and 106,000 had tested positive.

Bottoms' order, passed July 8, also bans public gatherings of more than 10 people. That is much lower than the statewide limit on gatherings of more than 50, as CBS reported. Those who do not wear masks within Atlanta's city limits could face a fine or up to six months in jail, according to CNN.

At least 15 Georgia municipalities require masks, according to CBS. In at least one of them, Dunwoody, the requirement was actually passed at the request of small business owners, Mayor Lynn Deutsch said in a Twitter thread.

"You know who is caught in the battle between the Georgia Governor and Local governments? Grocery store clerks, retail workers, and restaurant servers," he tweeted. "In other words, just the folks who aren't likely to have health insurance and paid time off."

It is unknown if Kemp will bring lawsuits against other local governments that require masks, CNN reported.

The dispute comes as coronavirus cases in Georgia continue to surge. On Wednesday, the day Kemp banned mask requirements, the state reported 3,871 new confirmed cases and 37 deaths, its second-highest daily case count, NPR reported at the time. On Thursday, the state reported 3,441 new cases and 13 deaths, according to CBS, as well as 244 hospitalizations.

It also comes the same week that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield strongly encouraged the use of masks during a visit to Charlotte, North Carolina on Wednesday.

"If all of us would put on a face-covering now for the next four weeks, six weeks, I think we could drive this epidemic into the ground," Redfield said, as ABC 12 reported.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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