Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said it’s still too early to reopen Atlanta and urged residents to call the city’s non-emergency center – or even police – to report public gatherings in which people aren't physical distancing.
Bottoms (top photo) also hinted she would mandate the wearing of face coverings in public throughout the city if she could. The mayor’s comments came Thursday as she briefed the Atlanta City Council on Atlanta’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I am not rushed or moved by where we’re moving as a state because I still believe that it is premature,” Bottom said. “It may be that many states are reopening and there is this overwhelming desire to get back to normal, but I am not willing to put our employees in a situation that I m not willing to put myself in. I still think this is too soon. I still have not seen a 14-day flattening of the curve.”
Businesses across the city are slowly reopening under Gov. Brian Kemp’s order to ease coronavirus restrictions, and people are heading outdoors in large numbers after he ended a statewide shelter-in-place order on April 30. Coronavirus cases and deaths continue to rise. On Monday, the City of Atlanta had 1,398 cases of COVID-19 – about 45 percent of the Fulton County’s total.
As the public ventures outdoors in the city – traffic on the Atlanta Beltline is ticking upward, Bottoms said – they are doing so without following physical distancing guidelines or wearing face coverings.
“The genie is out of the bottle now as far as people not adhering to social distancing," said Councilmember Michael Julian Bond during the call. "Not only in our parks but in many instances over the weekend, there is gross, flagrant disregard for social distancing and wearing mask coverings."
Bottoms said Atlanta police responded throughout the weekend to reports of large crowds. She said groups gathering without face coverings are putting police officers at risk.
“When we have our officers going into situations that may be crowded and people don’t have on face coverings, it obviously puts them more at risk,” Bottoms said. “This presents a particular challenge by our public safety personnel.”
She urged people to contact the city’s non-emergency 311 service or 911 to report groups that are not physical distancing instead of only posting photos and videos to social media.
“Part of it too is getting people to understand that it is not enough to just post it on social media," Bottoms said. "If there are distancing issues, call 311 when appropriate or 911 to report those, because of course by the time we see them on social media, then the moment has passed."
Testing critical to city’s reopening
The mayor hinted that if she could, she would require face coverings be worn in public throughout the city. Kemp’s executive orders about the coronavirus pandemic prohibit local municipalities from imposing stronger restrictions than his statewide ones.
“I have made a request of the governor’s office that we be allowed to ask people in Atlanta to wear masks in situations where there are 10 or more people or there is an inability to socially distance six feet apart. The governor is not supportive of that,” Bottom said.
Bottoms also noted the expansion of COVID-19 sites in Atlanta. She called it a critical component in restarting the city’s economy but added that people should not relax safety measures if they test negative for coronavirus.
“To the extent that testing is effective, it’s only effective if you test negative and then you don’t go back out into the public. They have to continue to socially distance, because you can test negative today and then you can go out into a crowd after you leave the testing and then become infected,” Bottom said.
The Advisory Council on the Reopening of the City of Atlanta is expected to present Bottoms with recommendations on COVID-19 restrictions and restarting the city’s economy by May 15.
“They are looking more-so towards data and not specifically dates. It’s going to be more of a general blueprint for our city as a whole,” the mayor said.
The report arrives two days after bars, nightclubs, live performance venues and public pools across the state could open. Kemp’s ban on those businesses reopening ends on May 13 – unless the governor extends it.