As Coronavirus Cases Surge, Georgia Gov. Sues to Stop Atlanta Mayor From Requiring Masks in Public
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."
It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us. Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ig… https://t.co/s5xm4dCOj2— Mayor Van Johnson (@Mayor Van Johnson)1594864483.0
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."
These men and women are doing their very best to put food on the table for their families while local elected offic… https://t.co/96KTE8OQRG— Governor Brian P. Kemp (@Governor Brian P. Kemp)1594936505.0
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."
Multiple hospitals are on diversion, struggling with an increase in the number of patients and a workforce that is… https://t.co/V0cE39EU25— Lynn Deutsch (@Lynn Deutsch)1594865403.0
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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Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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