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Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms On Reopening Georgia: 'I Remain Concerned'

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms tells NPR she "remains concerned" about Georgia reopening.
City of Atlanta/Mayor's Office of Communications
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms tells NPR she "remains concerned" about Georgia reopening.

Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's reopening of many businesses on April 24 came earlier than many public health experts had recommended and were against White House guidelines.

Another critic was Atlanta's Democratic mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms. Fulton County, where most of Atlanta lies, has more than 3,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases, the most of any county in Georgia.

"I remain concerned," she tells NPR's Ailsa Chang on All Things Considered. "All of the numbers that you are seeing now, for as high as they are, it's been with extreme social distancing measures in place."

Bottoms acknowledges that new daily infection numbers have seen a downward trend over the past several days, but says "over the next couple of weeks, we will see whether or not the reopening of our state sends us in the other direction."

Here are selections from that interview:

Do you think Atlanta should be on the same timeline as the rest of the state?

No, I don't. Obviously, Atlanta is a large urban city with a much more dense population than other parts of the state. We have very high asthma rates in our city.

But one of the newest hotspots that we have in our state is in Gainesville, Ga., primarily hitting the Latino community. So I think it's just this reminder, whether you are a densely populated city or a more rural town, COVID-19 can still strike and it can spread very rapidly.

Do you think that the governor's decision to start reopening your state is irresponsible?

I think that there was perhaps a way for us to be very thoughtful about a phased reopening. I don't think that that should have begun with hair salons and barbershops and places that people cannot appropriately socially distance or even have readily available access to the appropriate PPE. So I do think that there could have been a more thoughtful approach. ...

I have spoken with Gov. Kemp directly about this, and we have agreed to disagree.

This disease continues to disproportionately hit the black community in the U.S. and in Atlanta. Have you seen any signs of progress on that front?

We are just really beginning to gather information on specific ethnic classifications. So initially, the numbers were very spotty. But I can tell you anecdotally, I knew that it was hitting our community much harder. So now that we are gathering this information, we will continue to track it and we will see where those numbers are. I've seen that up to 80% of people in the state of Georgia who have been hospitalized are African American.

As I mentioned, the latest hotspot in our state is in Gainesville, Ga., centered around the Latino community. So I think the trend continues that black and brown communities are being hit harder. And I think that has a great deal to do with the jobs that are often accessible to black and brown communities in this country.

Mayor Bottoms also addresses the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in the full audio version of this interview. Listen here.

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James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.