As COVID-19 surges, mayor orders Atlanta back to ‘phase one’ reopening; governor says its ‘unenforceable’

With COVID-19 cases hitting record highs, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has ordered her city back into a stay-at-home phase that Gov. Brian Kemp calls “unenforceable,” setting up a political and possibly legal showdown.

“Georgia reopened in a reckless manner and the people of our city and state are suffering the consequences,” Bottoms said in a July 10 press release announcing the move.

Bottoms has the city government on a phased reopening plan that she says is moving back to phase one. It includes a directive that residents stay at home except for “essential” trips; that restaurants and retail shops do delivery and curbside pickup business only; that other businesses telework if possible; and that city government facilities remain closed and special event permits remain unavailable.

The city was previously in a “phase two” that included almost all of same restrictions, including the stay-at-home directive and limit on indoor business services, but many people had moved to less restricted activity under the governor’s earlier directives. The main difference in the phases is whether public gatherings are permitted. On July 10, Bottoms ordered a prohibition on gatherings of any size on city property.

Bottoms already mandated mask-wearing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, in another move Kemp also said is legally unenforceable.

Kemp currently has the entire state in a reopening phase that allows most businesses to operate with various pandemic safety precautions that are currently mandated through July 15. The order specifies that no local government can make pandemic rules that are more or less restrictive than his. Kemp has virtually unlimited powers to respond to the pandemic under an emergency order that extends into August.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health experts say mask-wearing can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by protecting both the user and people around them. Kemp has resisted calls for mask-wearing to be mandatory, an increasingly politicized issue from President Trump on down. However, he has urged people to voluntarily wear them.

On Twitter, Kemp said that Bottom’s shutdown order “is merely guidance — both non-binding and legally unenforceable. As clearly stated in my executive orders, no local action can be more or less restrictive, and that rule applies statewide.” He said citizens and businesses should comply with his “common-sense” order.

“If the mayor actually wants to flatten the curve in Atlanta, she should start enforcing state restrictions, which she has failed to do,” Kemp added.

He made no mention of today’s earlier announcement of reactivating the field hospital at the Georgia World Congress Center in Downtown as the state recorded nearly 5,000 new cases in one day.

 

Collin Kelley contributed to this report.

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