Metro Atlanta city with strictest mask mandate reports no fines, police calls

A few cities still require masks in public buildings, but Decatur is the only one enforcing it for private businesses

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Decatur remains metro Atlanta’s strictest city when it comes to requiring face masks, even if its mandate is mostly ceremonial at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic.

City leaders said the detection of the Omicron variant in Georgia coupled with DeKalb County’s low vaccination rate prompted them to extend the city’s mask mandate through mid-January. The historic DeKalb city was among a handful of cities to bring back mask requirements in August in response to the surge of new cases brought by the Delta variant.

Decatur’s policy allows for private business owners to opt-out of enforcement by posting signs if they wish, effectively making the mandate optional. While the policy carries a potential $50 fine for violators, City Manager Andrea Arnold told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that police have not been called once — let alone issued any fines or citations.

“I do not know how many businesses have opted out of the enforcement of the mask ordinance,” she said in an email. “The city has not issued any warnings or citations related to the mask ordinance nor have there been any reported incidents.”

Metro Atlanta COVID-19 cases and deaths
Of the four core metro Atlanta counties, DeKalb has the lowest COVID-19 case rate, but the second highest rate of death. Numbers reflect the number of cases and deaths per 100,000 residents since the pandemic began, as reported by the Georgia Department of Public Health on Dec. 7, 2021.
SOURCE: Georgia Department of Public Health

In Decatur, mask mandates have not led to much controversy. The City Commission’s Monday meeting lasted nearly five hours, but the mask policy discussion lasted less than 10 minutes. Instead, residents were up-in-arms about updates to the city’s tree ordinance.

While most local governments have moved on from mask mandates, they remain prevalent in metro Atlanta school districts. Atlanta Public Schools, DeKalb County Schools and City Schools of Decatur continue to make students and faculty wear masks, but even those policies may begin to wane.

Atlanta Public Schools is considering making masks optional starting in February. DeKalb County Schools is conducting a survey about its mask-wearing policy for the spring semester.

Arnold said the looming threat of the Omicron variant requires the city stay vigilant.

“The omicron variant has been detected here in Georgia, and certainly we’ll be seeing that spread through our community in the coming days,” she said during Monday’s meeting.

DeKalb’s vaccination rate of 54% is slightly ahead of the statewide rate, but it lags behind the national average of 63%. According to data from the DeKalb Board of Health, Decatur remains one of the county’s most vaccinated municipalities. More than 80% of residents who live north of West College Avenue are vaccinated, while at least 60% of residents south of that road are fully vaccinated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend unvaccinated people to wear masks while indoors and in crowded indoor areas. It generally advises that vaccinated groups do not have to wear masks unless they’re in areas with high COVID-19 transmission.

DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond previously said the county’s mask guidelines are still in effect, although residents likely don’t notice. The policy, which requires everyone older than 8 to wear face coverings “when in any public place,” is loosely enforced and includes a “conscientious objector” clause to try and avoid a legal confrontation with Gov. Brian Kemp.

Decatur commissioners will reevaluate their mask policy before its set to expire Jan. 18. Until then, they’re satisfied urging business owners and residents to continue to mask up.

“It’s a very simple act that we’re asking of ourselves and of others,” Arnold said.

Credit: Georgia Department of Public Health

Credit: Georgia Department of Public Health