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Atlanta mayor on reopening Georgia: 'I can't reconcile the logic behind opening a bowling alley'

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms spoke to 11Alive's Cheryl Preheim about the governor's decision to begin reopening the state this week.

ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp made the announcement yesterday that the state will begin gradually reopening as soon as the end of this week.

Businesses such as nail salons, hair salons, barber shops, tattoo parlors and bowling alleys can all open their doors again on Friday, if they choose. Restaurants and movie theaters are set to follow on Monday, April 27.

The decision is not being met without resistance. Many mayors of the state's largest cities have expressed their disagreement with the idea of reopening so soon.

RELATED: 'Perplexed' | Atlanta mayor, others say they weren't aware of governor's plans to reopen businesses early

Atlanta's Keisha Lance Bottoms is among those mayors, and she is urging her community to continue to stay indoors.

She spoke with 11Alive's Cheryl Preheim about her concerns as the state slowly opens, the challenges it will present and what she feels she can do in her position.

"I feel that we are still empowered to use our voices and to use our common sense, and that’s what I will continue to do as mayor," she said. "And I have a good working relationship with the governor and I know that that will continue, but on this we disagree. And his authority as governor is what it is, and it certainly supersedes my authority as mayor on paper - but it doesn’t supersede my voice, and I will continue to use my voice to urge our communities, our business owners and our residents to stay in."

Below, read her full thoughts on the matter:

On the types of businesses being allowed to reopen

The thing that stands out most for me is just, really, the businesses that were carved out. When you think about hair salons, barber shops, and nail salons, and any number of these businesses - these are businesses that require you be in close contact with people in order to provide the services. So I am extremely concerned about the carve-out, and what I think is that people really have to use their best judgment and exercise their common sense, and the science says that it is too soon for us to come in close contact with one another because we are not out of the woods as a country. 

My biggest concern right now is that we will see an even worse scenario than what we have, because I think a lot of the success that we've seen in the city, and quite frankly throughout this state, is because we were very aggressive in shutting things down ... so I hope that I am wrong, I hope that the governor is right about this, but when I look at the science and talk with the healthcare professionals I just don’t see the reasoning behind it.

On the science and experts' advice

There's so many unknowns - when I looked at the numbers last night, they showed that we have a nearly 14 percent spike in deaths and almost seven percent spike in those testing positive. And again, that’s without people with mild symptoms and people who are asymptomatic being tested.

You know, nobody wants us to have to stay in a day longer than we have to, but I think that when you balance the economics of it and you balance it with public health - there is no balance there. 

They call it the novel coronavirus for a reason - because there's so many unknowns and while we have hospital capacity in the metro area, we have it because we've been aggressive. And when you have healthcare workers saying "please stay home to make our jobs easier," I think we have to heed those warnings.

And so I could perhaps see allowing some other essential businesses to open - like doctor's offices and places like that, where people are trained and they know the risk and can take the proper healthcare precautions with the proper equipment - but I can't reconcile the logic behind opening a bowling alley.

On public health versus economic impact

Well I had a great conversation with my mother – my mother owned a hair salon for 25 year and to close her business for five weeks or longer would have been devastating to our family economically. But my mother said to me last night, "There is no way I would stand over a client during a time like this."

I think that is really what people have to balance - making money versus public health. And again I understand people are making decision based on how they will pay their bills and feed their families - those decision are very real, but I think that's why it's incumbent upon us as leaders to make decision that allow people not to have to balance between the two.

We're launching a beauty and barber shop fund today in the city of Atlanta to help people in the beauty industry, to make it a little easier for them to stay home. We launched our small business fund before the federal government to help make it easier for people to stay home.

I think we need to put our energy into making it easier for people to apply for unemployment, to make sure those stimulus checks are in their bank accounts - those are the decisions I think we need to put our energy towards, and taking our foot off the pedal right now, I just don't think it’s a sound decision.

The best example I received was from Dr. Carlos Del Rio at Emory University and he said its like climbing Mount Everest - as many people die headed up to the peak as die coming off of the peak. So just because we've made it to a peak perhaps doesn’t mean that we're out of the woods. And also my understanding is just because we reach one peak doesn’t mean that we won't reach another when it comes to this virus.

On potential for a second wave

I'm extremely concerned and that concern is shared by business owners throughout this city. I've just heard from a restaurant owners who owns one of the busiest restaurants in our city, who said he thinks it would be reckless to open his business back up.

People are concerned about putting their workers at risk, and I think that when people look at the science, and when you look at what the professionals have to say - not what I have to say as mayor ... not what anyone else has to say, but what the healthcare professionals have to say, they are saying we are not out of the woods and for us to take our foot off of the pedal may cause us even more harm than we've seen thus far.

We have been very fortunate in this city that we've not seen our healthcare system overrun in the way that other places have - but the reason we've been so fortunate is because we exercised common sense, we looked at the data and we shut the city down. When you look at the population in the (Atlanta) metro area we have more than half the population in the state, but less than half of the infections in the state, because we've been aggressive. And to take away our ability to really do what's best on behalf of our communities I think puts us all at risk.

On what she can still do as mayor

I don’t feel helpless, I feel that we are still empowered to use our voices and to use our common sense and that’s what I will continue to do as mayor. And I have a good working relationship with the governor and I know that that will continue - but on this we disagree. And his authority as governor is what it is, and it certainly supersedes my authority as mayor on paper. But it doesn’t supersede my voice, and I will continue to use my voice to urge our communities, our business owners and our residents to stay in.

No sooner than the governor's order came down yesterday, my 18-year-old ran in the room and told me the governor said he could leave the house. And his birthday is today, so he's feeling very empowered, but I reminded him if he left he needed to take enough clothing with him to stay throughout the pandemic, because he could not come back here.

You know these are the tough conversations that we have to have inside our homes and with our communities, and this tough conversation is - it's not time yet. The science and the data doesn’t show that we are out of the woods, we just have to use our common sense. 

And for those of us who are fortunate enough not to have to figure out how to put food on our table and pay our bills, then I think it's incumbent on us to step up and stand in the gap for some people who may be in need. It's why we're continuing our food delivery services in the city of Atlanta, it's why we're doing what we're doing related to small businesses. And we'll just continue to call on others to help us with that.

On conversations with other mayors

I spoke with Mayor Hardie Davis from Augusta last night, who is mayor of the second largest city in the state. Mayor Davis wanted to know if I heard form the governor, I told him I had not. He had spoke with other mayors in some of our smaller cities ... we're all asking the same questions. I'm seeing the other mayors on television last night and today, and I think by and large people are very confused by this and really concerned that our input as local leaders was not sought.

And again the governor doesn’t ever have to pick up the phone and call me, he's the governor, he is authorized to make decisions and doesn't have to consult with any of us. But to the extent that we have to explain this to our communities and it impacts what could be a public health crisis in our communities, then certainly we have to make decision that we feel are appropriate for the people who have elected us to lead them. And that decision for me is to say that I think that opening up businesses right now is not in the best interest of the people of Atlanta and I really encourage people to please continue to stay home.

On stress to hospital system

Again just because we have enough beds doesn’t mean that we should work to fill them up.

Our healthcare system is stressed on a normal day. Grady Hospital is a major trauma center in the southeast. Just a few days ago we were 31 patients over capacity, this is stressful for our healthcare workers and Grady struggles with capacity issues when there's not a pandemic. And so simply because we have additional beds doesn’t mean that we can ease up because we can send more people in to the hospital.

The reality is this: especially in the African American community, many people are going in and they are not getting out of the hospital - they are dying. We have some of the highest asthma rates in the country. Diabetes, high blood pressure, lupus, respiratory issues - these are things that are common illnesses in the African American community, especially in an urban center like Atlanta, and these are the underlying conditions that are causing people to die when they are infected with this virus.

On businesses reopening disproportionately impacting African American community

It certainly would (disproportionately impact), because there are a number of hair salons in our community and barber shops and these are people who quite often don’t have health insurance, so you have barbers and hair stylists who are standing over customers - you can't socially distance. I mean you are doing someone's hair, or when you're cutting their hair, when you're doing their nails.

And we can't assume - if the city of Atlanta is having challenges getting PPE, then what's our expectation for our barbers and our hair stylists? As far as I know there hasn’t even been any public health training for them as to what's the appropriate PPE when you're standing inches from someone's face.

It doesn’t make sense to me, and again I can't stress enough - I understand the economics of it is a huge factor, but you can't enjoy the economic benefits if you're dead.

On concerns as a mother

What keeps me up at night is really, for any mom, my kids. And all four of my children have asthma. Each time I go to the grocery store I'm so concerned about what I may bring into my household.

My youngest son has had pneumonia before, he has the most severe asthma of them all. So I'm constantly concerned about what if we inadvertently bring something into our house while we're out buying groceries. That’s the thing that keeps me up at night. 

I think about my mother and my mother-in-law, just by virtue of their age. My mother-in-law has some underlying health conditions, and my mother is in good health but when I look at one of my dear friend's mother who spent nearly 15 days on a ventilator - she was in good health too. So I know that for our seniors, they are especially vulnerable. And for our children with underlying conditions this could prove to be deadly.


11Alive is focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. We want to keep you informed about the latest developments while ensuring that we deliver confirmed, factual information.

We will track the most important coronavirus elements relating to Georgia on this page. Refresh often for new information.


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