Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms ordered all but essential businesses closed late Friday as coronavirus cases in the city and across Georgia hit record levels.
Bottoms placed Atlanta back under Phase 1 stay-at-home guidelines just two days after imposing a mask-wearing mandate requiring people in the city to wear masks in all public places.
“Based upon the surge of COVID-19 cases and other data trends, pursuant to the recommendations of our Reopening Advisory Committee, Atlanta will return to Phase I of our reopening plan,” Bottoms said in a news release. “Georgia reopened in a reckless manner and the people of our city and state are suffering the consequences.”
Under Phase 1, which was in effect in Atlanta this spring until early May, residents are to make only essential trips such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy. Businesses such as restaurants and retail establishments are only allowed to provide curbside services.
Gov. Brian Kemp, who has not issued a mask-wearing order statewide, criticized the mayor on Wednesday for imposing restrictions beyond what the state is requiring and did so again following Friday’s order.
"Mayor Bottoms' action today is merely guidance — both non-binding and legally unenforceable,” Kemp said in a prepared statement. “As clearly stated in the governor's executive order, no local action can be more or less restrictive, and that rule applies statewide.”
Bottoms took action on the same day Georgia added more than 4,400 confirmed cases of COVID-19, a daily record. More than 111,200 Georgians have contracted the virus since the global pandemic began hitting the U.S. back in March. There have been 12,936 hospitalizations and 2,965 deaths.
As of 3 p.m. Friday, Fulton County had 10,021 confirmed coronavirus cases overall. The county had suffered 321 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began along with 1,230 hospitalizations.
In Bartow County, there has been 879 cases, 163 hospitalizations and 42 deaths.
Despite the governor’s warnings that local mask-wearing requirements can’t be enforced, a growing number of Georgia cities have imposed them. The city of Augusta imposed a masking mandate on Friday, joining Atlanta, Savannah and East Point.
Also on Friday, Kemp announced plans to reopen the Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta for standby hospital beds and medical equipment to help handle the recent influx of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
The governor also plans to tap a metro Atlanta hospital for an extra 100 surge and ICU beds, as well as fund additional staff at health-care and elderly care facilities in Georgia amid the COVID-19 uptick.
A 200-bed alternative care facility was activated in April at the World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta as COVID-19 cases soared and state officials rushed to boost emergency bed capacity. Its operations were paused in late May as Kemp moved to relax business restrictions and jump-start the state’s flagging economy.
The renewed state-driven buildup of hospital capacity comes as local hospitals have warned the number of patients being admitted for COVID-19 is edging up, particularly among younger Georgians, according to the governor’s office.
“On a daily — if not hourly — basis, we are monitoring hospitalizations by region, and the governor continues to hold weekly conference calls with hospital executives to gauge needs,” said Kemp’s communications director, Candice Broce.
Amid the buildup, state officials noted patients with COVID-19 are seeing shorter hospital stays through use of the treatment drug remdesivir and because their cases are less acute, in part due to their age.
Hospitals in the state will also likely continue conducting revenue-generating elective medical procedures despite the current COVID-19 increases, Broce said. Elective surgeries were put on hold earlier this year but resumed in late April as COVID-19 cases began slowing and hospitals sought to ease financial strain.
State officials also expect to see an increase in the number of positive COVID-19 test results in the coming days after testing specimens dropped off over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
Georgia is negotiating “new solutions” to expand in-house test processing and results turnaround with more details forthcoming, Broce said.