Jul 16, 2020
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms COVID-19 Briefing Transcript July 16
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms held a July 16 press conference on coronavirus. She expressed support for her mask mandate despite Governor Brian Kemp’s executive order banning Georgia cities from mandating masks. Bottoms is currently being sued by Kemp over Atlanta’s mask mandate. Read her full transcript here.
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Speaker 1: (00:00)
Thank you for joining Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms today for a public update on administration actions and priority. Now we will hear from Mayor Bottoms.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (00:12)
Hi. Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you all for joining us. This is something that we are trying for the first time today, so please bear with us as we work out the kinks and make a determination as to whether or not this will be the best format going forward. Many of you all have participated in the updates that I have provided to council over the past several weeks. I think we have been doing those updates since March. I wanted to continue to provide information to the public and also make myself available to answer questions from the media. We will determine if this is the best format for us to continue with. Not sure if this will be on a weekly basis, biweekly basis, but we’ll make that determination going forward. In the meantime, I appreciate your tuning in and hope that you will find this information helpful as we continue to navigate what we are calling around the city of Atlanta, our now normal.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (01:15)
As many of you all know, COVID-19 has hit home for my family and I. My husband and I have tested positive. Also, one of our children has tested positive, as well. It has really highlighted, for me especially, just how easily this virus can be transmitted and the dangers that we have when we don’t have testing with testing results readily available to the public. Many of you all perhaps have heard me speak of our personal experience within our household with testing.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (01:56)
I received my first test when I participated in a protest. At that time, I also got my family tested and had just decided, as a matter of course, that I would routinely get tested as we were encouraging the public to do that and also, really messaging that it should be very easy for you to get tested. After I attended the funeral of Rayshard Brooks, I was tested again on June 29th. At that time, I had my family tested again at that time.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (02:29)
That was on a Monday. Towards the weekend, my husband started to experience what I now know were symptoms of COVID-19. At some point, towards that Monday, I just realized that he was sleeping more than usual. Since we still had not received our last test results that we had taken on Monday the 29th, we were able, through Emory University, to get tested again and received the results the same day. At that time, myself, my son, and my husband, and I were positive. We then received the results the following Tuesday, from the tests that we had taken on the 29th. At that time, only my child was positive and asymptomatic. By the time we received our results from the test that we had taken at Emory eight days later, three of us were in our house and were positive.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (03:34)
That really speaks to the trouble that we’re having with testing and getting people results back quickly. As we continue to grapple with that as a city and as a state, we remain grateful for the resources that have been provided to us. Specifically, thank you to Governor Cuomo and the people in New York who are sending additional tests to Atlanta and to so many who have made donations on behalf of the city of Atlanta, whether it be PPE, any number of donations. Tony Ressler, owner of the Atlanta Hawks has made a $100,000 donation to the Strength and Beauty Fund, he and his lovely wife, Jami. We also had one of our new Atlanta Falcons players make a substantial donation to the ATL Strong Fund. Wells Fargo Bank, I believe, made a $50,000 donation and so many others that I will certainly call their names and share their names.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (04:39)
Even as we speak today, Tyler Perry and Tyler Perry Studios have donated gift cards, 1,000 gift cards, $50 each. They have given those to our Atlanta police officers who are going door to door in our communities, giving out those gift cards to residents as an opportunity to make one-on-one connections and also just to spread a little joy in our city during this very challenging time. Thank you to Tyler Perry and to Tyler Perry Studios for your great partnership.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (05:13)
In recent weeks, we’ve seen an alarming rise in coronavirus cases in cities and states across the country. Georgia continues to report record-breaking surges in COVID-19 with more than 4,000 cases in one day and over 127,000 cases across the state with nearly 3,100 deaths. Across Fulton County and DeKalb Counties where Atlanta is, we have seen more than 20,000 cases with more than 500 deaths. We continue to see a high percentage of cases affecting minority communities and our senior communities. Our workforce continues to be impacted by COVID-19 with 116 employees that we are aware of who have tested positive. I am aware of two deaths that we have had in our workforce related to COVID-19.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (06:06)
Last week, the week of July, the surging cases, hospitalizations, and lack of hospital bed capacity prompted me to issue an executive order mandating the wearing of face coverings in the city of Atlanta. This order includes all city-owned and operated facilities, including Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Public health experts overwhelmingly agree that wearing a face covering helps slow the spread of the virus. I believe that we should take them at their word. Hartsfield-Jackson is one of our largest job centers in the state. I’m grateful for the public support from their CEO at Bastian who has called upon our leaders to even look at a federal mandate for mask-wearing.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (06:57)
We’ve also taken a look at the data and metrics. It has led us to go back to phase one of our reopening plan. The plan is based on metrics, data, and CDC recommendations, plain and simple. It provides guidelines to help Atlantans make the safest choices for themselves, and for their families, and also their employees. The city’s reopening guidelines follow the science and advice of experts such as Dr. Carlos del Rio of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, one of our leading universities in the country and, I would say, in world. He was also joined by many leaders from various sectors in our city. I think there were a total of 60 leaders on that advisory council. They were very clear in creating objective metrics for us to follow so it would not be a subjective determination on where we would be with our reopening guidelines.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (07:56)
I personally assumed that we would continue to move forward at least until the fall when we were anticipated to hit a second surge, but, unfortunately, based on where we are with our COVID-19 numbers, we are back to phase one. Phase one includes staying at home except for essential trips, wearing a mask, frequent hand washing, social distancing where possible. It also discourages public gatherings of any size. For businesses, it recommends curbside pickups from restaurants or retail establishments, teleworking as much as possible when possible, frequent cleaning of workspaces and high-touch areas.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (08:37)
Phase one also means that the city’s playgrounds and basketball courts will remain closed. We will continue with our virtual summer camps. You can learn more about our reopening guidelines and sign up for updates at atl.org. We’ve also extended our moratorium on evictions and filings at properties that receive public funding from the city of Atlanta. Also, extended a series of administrative orders.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (09:03)
Of Atlanta. Also extended a series of administrative orders that prohibit the termination of water service for nonpayment. We have temporarily continued ceasing the towing and booting of vehicles in the cities right away and continue to allow the sale of unopened wine and beer by-the-package for off-premises consumption by restaurants and other establishments.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (09:24)
We’ve always said that these guidelines were just that. That they were guidelines, but these guidelines were created in response to the public’s ask, that there be some sound, objective, data and metrics in which they could make the best decisions possible and we hope that these guidelines will continue to do that for our residents and for our business owners.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (09:49)
I want to now take a few minutes just to share some updates on crime and public safety. It may be difficult to believe, but overall crime is down in Atlanta by 18% from this time last year. But like many other cities, we are seeing a surge in violent crime. Over the last 28 days, we’ve seen an increase in shootings and during the same period, homicides have increased and mostly have been firearm related deaths.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (10:18)
The rise in aggravated assaults and homicides has been driven largely in four geographic areas; Edgewood Entertainment District, that’s in Zone 1, from Center Street Northwest and Abner Terrace Northwest. Zone 3, University Avenue at Southeast and Pryor Street. And Zone 6, Boulevard Northwest and Parkway Drive Northeast. I’m sorry, that’s three geographic areas.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (10:44)
Interim Police Chief Rodney Bryant has implemented a plan to reduce violent crime in the city and the reduction will be achieved by focusing police resources within those geographic areas, deploying resources supported by intelligence, targeted arrest of wanted persons and community engagement.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (11:03)
The Atlanta Police Department will also continue to provide a safe environment for peaceful protests while promptly addressing any efforts to commit criminal acts. An interesting statistic that we received from Chief Bryant this morning during our cabinet meeting, were the number of COVID positive officers that we have had since the protests have begun. So just a reminder, as people are continuing to gather in large gatherings, please continue to be safe. I know that when I went into the protest area, what struck me is that there were so many people who still were not wearing masks. It is very unsafe to do that, especially when you are gathered together. You’re very close together and people are yelling and screaming, which means that you are projecting, which we know singing and loud talking certainly gives the COVID virus an even greater opportunity to spread from person to person.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (12:07)
It goes without saying that we’ve endured some difficult days over the past few months, punctuated by the deaths of Rayshard Brooks and eight year old Secoriea Turner and so many others in our cities. Our prayers continue to be with all of these families. Yesterday, the owner of the Wendy’s on University Avenue where Rayshard Brooks was killed, made the decision to demolish the building and clear this site. We hope that this will be an important step in the healing process for the community. Wendy’s has committed to providing services and support to the community and we look forward to working in partnership with them to make sure that that happens on behalf of the community, many of whom looked at this Wendy’s as the only place to get healthy food options in the community, as we know that this area is a food desert.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (13:02)
We’re taking a holistic approach to public safety reform, which includes a robust engagement of residents, businesses and our officers to make sure that everyone has a voice in this process. Over the last month, I’ve issued a series of executive orders to accelerate our process. After receiving The Use of Force Advisory Council’s Initial 10 Recommendations, we immediately acted upon three of those. The first being directing the Chief of Police to further improved body worn camera compliance. Our current level is at 94% and we want to make sure that that level is even higher.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (13:40)
Also, directs the Atlanta Police Department to improve transparency and responsiveness to public requests for officer footage. The second administrative order directs the chief information officer to develop a platform that allows the public to submit recordings and use of force violations. These recordings will be incorporated in two investigations ensuring that the public recordings and video footage is also a part of the decision making. It also directs the use of public videos, retention of policies on citizens submissions and gives the Atlanta Citizen Review Board access to the videos for their independent investigation.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (14:27)
The third administrative order directs my executive staff to work with the Atlanta Citizen Review Board to identify measures to strengthen the organization. I also issue a letter to the Atlanta Citizen Review Board on the importance of their independent perspective and critical role that they play in maintaining accountability.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (14:47)
The remaining several recommendations by the Advisory Council on use of force are under legal and operational review to determine what further action can be taken on those. The Advisory Council will submit some additional recommendations next week. Our administration also will implement a number of prior actions to reform Atlanta’s criminal justice system. As you may recall with the elimination of cash bail bonds in the City of Atlanta, closing our detention center to ICE and equipping all of our officers with body cameras, we also removed our officers from federal taskforce that would not allow our officers to wear body cameras. We reduced our department of corrections budget by nearly 60% and plans are underway to shift that funding and staff to increase community outreach and services to communities that are adversely impacted by the criminal justice system.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (15:53)
A big part of the discussion around COVID-19 centers around economic recovery. We have been managing through the pandemic and now that our administration remains focused on our vision to achieving One Atlanta, we’re working to ensure that families and small businesses have access to tools needed during the pandemic and beyond. Earlier this week, we announced our One Atlanta Economic Recovery and Resiliency Plan. In partnership with Invest Atlanta and WorkSource Atlanta, we announced our plans to improve economic security and quality of life for Atlanta residents and businesses. Our goal continues to be to attract, retain, and support business sectors that are producing high demand jobs, provide training for low income and dislocated workers to help them move up the ladder of mobility and success, enables small businesses to access additional capital and support more businesses and startups in this invested communities and support the creation of more mixed income housing, the new models of development, while helping more low income residents qualify to buy homes or remain in their homes.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (17:09)
This plan is not just about ambition. It really is about intention. And our approach is very simple. The notion that any job is a good job simply is not true. We need to make sure that we are being very intentional in creating middle wage jobs and pathways to jobs for Atlantans who need them most. The Atlantans who need them most, as many of you all know, are typically our low income residents and very likely people of color. So we are being intentional about supporting workers, small businesses and households from these communities and neighborhoods who often like access to economic opportunities. This plan sets very specific targets for success. We started developing this economic mobility.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (18:03)
We started developing this economic mobility strategy before COVID-19, but I’m often reminded during this time of Dr. King’s reminder to us all there is a fierce urgency of now. We have intentionally set very lofty goals, but I trust that with the work in partnership with the Atlanta city council, invest Atlanta in the steering committee on the collaboration of the economic mobility plan that we will achieve our goals. I also want to thank our partners, Bloomberg associates continues to be a tremendous partner for the city of Atlanta and helping us to lead and facilitate a lot of the work that we have been able to accomplish on behalf of the administration. Also the enterprise community partners, the Urban league and APD urban. And finally in keeping with the theme of economic mobility, I want to share the good news that WorkSource Atlanta has placed more than 100 young people with well paying jobs this summer at $12 an hour. They are working a minimum of 25 hours per week.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (19:14)
WorkSource Atlanta’s also partnering with the department of parks and recreation to enroll students in paid work experiences at $13 an hour. Thanks to the national emergency grant of $550,000 WorkSource Atlanta’s providing training and work experience for individuals to address dislocated workers and disaster work sites. And so again, as I bring my remarks to a close, I want to emphasize that the health safety and progress of our city continues to be of the utmost concern to me personally and to our administration as a whole. Every single decision that I make as mayor is driven by my belief that we can achieve the goal of being one Atlanta and the leadership of the city of Atlanta is needed now more than ever. And so with that I will be happy to begin to answer questions and I’m going to get some guidance from my team as to how we facilitate that.
Speaker 2: (20:22)
Yes ma’am. This is Michael so our first question is from Raphael Salazar with Univision. His question is we’ve seen rising numbers disproportionately within the [inaudible 00:20:34] told me he was worried about that trend. Is there a plan to address this issue in Atlanta?
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (20:43)
And thank you for the question. And we are well aware of that and I’ve had a very in depth conversation with Dr. Del Rio about that and it’s driven by several factors. And interestingly enough I was in a conversation with mayor Garcetti in Los Angeles and they are experiencing the same trend. He shared also in Los Angeles that initially their African American community was hit hardest and now they are seeing rising numbers in their Hispanic community and that’s exactly what’s happening in Atlanta. It’s driven by a number of factors. We know that congregate living is a part of that, but certainly when there’s not an opportunity to have testing and get results quickly and then the opportunity to quarantine, it increases the spread of COVID-19.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (21:34)
So we will continue to work with Dr. Del Rio recognizing that there are nuances to many of our communities and we have to give special attention and consideration as to how we navigate those nuances. But we are aware of it and we are sending out messaging through our welcoming Atlanta office as we often do to our Spanish speaking communities. And also making sure that people are aware of the services and resources that are available, including all of our testing sites throughout the city. But we’re seeing it not just in Atlanta, but throughout the state of Georgia and certainly throughout the country as well.
Speaker 2: (22:19)
Thank you. The next question is from Portia Bruner at Fox 5, she’s asking what do you tell Atlanta business owners that are following the guidelines of phase one when other Atlanta business owners aren’t?
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (22:32)
That we have to be responsible. And what I would say to our business owners who are following the guidelines that you are following the data and the science. Our committee was led by some very talented people including our chief operating officer, Joshua Williams, Ingrid Saunders Jones, who is retired from the National Negro League of Women. And also I hope I got that title right, forgive me if I did not. And also from Coca Cola and also Robby Ash who’s a leading attorney in our city. So this was not subjective work. This was objective work so that if this day came that people would have objective metrics in which they could follow. We have provided that to them and what I would say to our business owners who are following this metrics they are doing the right thing. And I believe that their customers and their clients are better for their following the science.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (23:39)
And for those who continue to disregard the science, I think you need to continue to follow the same data and metrics in terms of our numbers. ICU beds are at capacity and reaching capacity in hospitals across the city. And we are not slowing down, the trends that I am seeing are trends that I have not seen since April just in terms of where we are with numbers. So I thank all of those businesses who continue to be responsible and continue to take every opportunity they can to protect themselves and their customers and clients.
Speaker 2: (24:19)
Thank you. The next question is from Ben Brash from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he’s asking mayor what do you feel is getting lost with all this political wrangling over mask wearing?
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (24:35)
What do I feel is getting lost? Was that the question?
Speaker 2: (24:41)
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (24:41)
Well, what’s getting lost is the science and the reality of where we are with COVID-19 and there is so much death and sickness around us that I think in many ways people become desensitized to that unfortunately. But when I look at my husband who is perfectly healthy and I look at the toll that COVID-19 has taken on him he lost 20 pounds in one week. And this is someone who’s healthy and was able to fight it off. I can only imagine what it’s doing to people who aren’t going into this fight in the best of health. And so what’s getting lost are the lies and the reality that this is a pandemic and this disease has no regard for title, status, social economic standing, political party affiliation. This disease is hitting everyone. And even if there is a case to be made outside of just human life and preserving human life there’s an economic case to be made.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (25:49)
Goldman Sachs released a study this week that talks about the economic sense that it makes for people to wear masks. Because it is the only way that we’re going to be able to stop the spread of this virus and be able to get our economy going again.
Speaker 2: (26:09)
All right. The next question is from George TD with The Interset, he says mayor what is your view of the racial dynamics around the conversation on police reforms? Specifically it seems as though there’s a difference between what black Atlanta residents want and what people think they want.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (26:30)
I think that we all want the same thing and that’s to be safe in our communities. And we all want to be able to have positive interactions with law enforcement in our communities. But unfortunately for so many communities, black and brown communities, those interactions are disproportionately negative interactions. And you can look at that despite what Donald Trump says, the per capita numbers show that people in black and brown communities are more likely to be-
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (27:03)
People in black and brown communities are more likely to be on the receiving end of police shootings. I think what is being lost is that we all want to achieve the same goal. I truly believe our officers want to achieve that same goal. I believe that they want to go home to their families at the end of the day and that they want to have positive relations with our communities. One student said it best in my meeting with some of the student activists, “this has to stop being a us versus them conversation. This has to be a we conversation and we means people in all communities across the city of all backgrounds. But also our public safety personnel, because I don’t think anybody wants to be on the other end of what is happening in terms of negative interactions with our communities is not a desired outcome for anyone.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (28:01)
I believe in the same way Atlanta has been able to achieve that over so many decades with so many challenges before us, I know that we can achieve it as it relates to criminal justice reform and reforming how we police our communities. But it is going to be a challenging time. It is going to be a trying time for all of us, but as long as we know that better is coming, I truly believe that we can get there. I’m looking forward to continuing to receive the input from the community, as well as our officers on how we can have better outcomes with interactions with our communities.
Speaker 2: (28:43)
The next question is from Ashley Thompson, the CVS 46. Her question is how can the city get a handle on the surging COVID-19 cases without a state mandate?
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (28:56)
Well, it’s my belief that the city of Atlanta still has the appropriate standing to mandate masks, especially as it relates to buildings and places that we own and operate. I find it quite interesting and I actually wrote these date dates down. I’m going to flip so I get them right. The city of Athens put forth a mask mandate July 8th, city of Savannah put forth the mask mandate July 1st, but when the city of Atlanta put forth a mask mandate and it was noted that the President violated that mask mandate when he didn’t wear a mask at Hartsfield-Jackson, Atlanta International Airport, then suddenly the Governor has taken a formal position on mask in the state of Georgia.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (29:51)
Whatever the motivation is, I think that at the end of the day, we all have to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. What the scientists are telling us is that the right thing to do is to wear a mask. What healthcare professionals are telling us is that they are being overrun in our hospitals, and that they are asking us to help slow the spread and be considerate of them and their families and the sacrifices they are making by wearing a mask. It’s a simple thing to do. It’s an easy thing to do. We will just continue to push and ask people to do it despite the disagreements that we may have.
Speaker 2: (30:37)
Roxanne Scott with WABE is asking, are you concerned that the state might sue the city because of the mask mandate?
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (30:46)
I’m not concerned about that at all. No, I’m not. I’m not concerned about that at all. You all know I love to quote Audrey Lord. She says, “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.” I am not afraid of the city being sued. And I’ll put our policies up against anyone’s any day of the week.
Speaker 2: (31:09)
The next question is from Stephen Fowler with GPB. He said, the governor said the mask order is unenforceable, are you worried that this larger conflict over masks could lead to some confusion for business owners who may want their customers to be safe?
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (31:26)
As I’ve said, we have given very clear data-driven metrics and advice to businesses in the city of Atlanta. That advice is very clear that if you want to protect yourself and your customers, you should wear a mask. I believe that our city mask ordinance, and I believe those across the state are defensible and it is not just my posture, but the posture of many other mayors across the state that our policies are enforceable and they stand.
Speaker 2: (32:05)
All right. And that seems to be covering each outlet.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (32:11)
Well, thank you all for the opportunity to share with you directly. I trust that you all will give feedback to our communications team on how you thought this went today and we will make the tweaks accordingly. As always, I am most appreciative of the honor of serving as your mayor and I just ask that you continue to be cognizant of the dangers of COVID-19. There’s so many people who don’t have the option of staying at home and teleworking. So many in our communities, including in our workforce; our watershed employees, our public works employees, our sanitation workers, our police officers, our firefighters, and the list goes on. People who are getting up and going out each and every day to keep our city running. So many people in businesses across this city, frontline workers, often the lowest paid workers, who are very vulnerable and susceptible to COVID-19, don’t have the choice as to whether or not they leave their homes every day.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: (33:24)
But for those of us who do, be considerate of them, continue to wear their mass, continue to wash your hands, continue to socially distance. We can always have another opportunity to fix the economy. We don’t get another opportunity when someone has lost their lives. I appreciate you all and look forward to your feedback. Thank you.