Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order Friday that bans masks mandates inside Georgia public schools.
The order also lifts most existing COVID-19 restrictions in the state. It blocks schools from implementing policies that would require students and staff to wear masks. Students and teachers still can wear masks if they choose, but they would be optional.
"Georgians don't need the government telling them what their children should do," Kemp tweeted Thursday.
Six Cobb County parents who sued the Cobb County School District over the district's mask mandate have dropped the lawsuit in response to Kemp's announcement.
Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms had a public dispute last summer over Kemp's order that restricted local governments from issuing face covering rules that were more restrictive than his.
Kemp filed a lawsuit against Atlanta officials in July after the city enacted a face mask-wearing mandate when his executive order encouraged but did not require face coverings. Kemp later abandoned the lawsuit and issued an executive order that allowed certain local governments to issue the mandate.
The Georgia Department of Public Health reported Friday the lowest COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state since the beginning of the pandemic. State records show 99 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms. According to the state's daily status report, 9.9% of the tests returned were positive Friday for COVID-19.
"As hospitalizations, cases, deaths, and percent positive tests all continue to decline – and with vaccinations on the rise – Georgians deserve to fully return to normal," Kemp said. "With safe and effective vaccines widely available and the public well-aware of all COVID-19 mitigation measures, mandates from state and local governments are no longer needed."
The Georgia Department of Education, Georgia Association of Educators and Georgia Parent Teachers Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
The order takes effect Monday. It also lifts existing restrictions on restaurants, bars, conventions, child care facilities, live performance venues and other organizations. Kemp lifted gathering bans, shelter-in-place requirements and social distancing mandates at businesses in April. Friday's order is set to expire June 15.
Some restrictions on long-term care facilities and schools still remain in place in compliance with public health guidance.
Kemp also signed an executive order this week that bans state agencies, state service providers and state properties from requiring COVID-19 vaccine passports. It also stops state employers from implementing different rules for employees based on vaccination status.
Georgia House Minority Leader James Beverly, D-Macon, said Kemp's vaccine passport ban places the "culture wars" in the public health domain.
"Fighting against so-called 'COVID Passports' plays into the anti-vax narrative in dangerous ways," Beverly said in a statement. "Our students show vaccine histories before going into schools and universities, is that next?"