A look at major coronavirus developments over the past week

200717-Tucker-Ingred Cruez, left, and Marie Rodriguez help customers from behind acrylic panels during the lunch rush at Matthews Cafeteria on Main Street in Tucker on Friday afternoon July 17, 2020. The dining institution, established in 1955, ask customers to wear masks, added the acrylic dividers, made separate entrance and exit doors and have drive-up service.  Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
200717-Tucker-Ingred Cruez, left, and Marie Rodriguez help customers from behind acrylic panels during the lunch rush at Matthews Cafeteria on Main Street in Tucker on Friday afternoon July 17, 2020. The dining institution, established in 1955, ask customers to wear masks, added the acrylic dividers, made separate entrance and exit doors and have drive-up service. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Gov. Brian Kemp’s administration filed a lawsuit to block the city of Atlanta’s mandatory face mask requirement, setting up a legal showdown between state and local government.

Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations continued to rise, once again shattering records.

Here’s a look at major news related to coronavirus during the past week.

All visitors and employees entering the Fulton County Government Center are told to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and they had their temperature checked before entering the building in an attempt to decrease the spread of COVID-19. (REBECCA WRIGHT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)
All visitors and employees entering the Fulton County Government Center are told to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and they had their temperature checked before entering the building in an attempt to decrease the spread of COVID-19. (REBECCA WRIGHT FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Credit: REBECCA WRIGHT FOR THE ATLANTA J

Credit: REBECCA WRIGHT FOR THE ATLANTA J

Kemp’s administration files lawsuit

The state filed a lawsuit challenging Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ mask mandate and her July 10 decision to revert to “phase one” guidelines. Those guidelines urge restaurants to close dining rooms and residents stay at home unless making essential trips.

“This lawsuit is on behalf of the Atlanta business owners and their hardworking employees who are struggling to survive during these difficult times,” Kemp said in a statement. “These men and women are doing their very best to put food on the table for their families while local elected officials shutter businesses and undermine economic growth.”

Bottoms said she was ready for a legal battle to defend the city’s order, pointing out that she and two family members are among the more than 100,000 Georgians who have tested positive for the disease.

“A better use of taxpayer money would be to expand testing and contact tracing,” said Bottoms. “If being sued by the state is what it takes to save lives in Atlanta, then we will see them in court.”

The legal complaint, filed in Fulton County Superior Court, came one day after Kemp signed a statewide order that explicitly bans mask mandates put in place by cities and counties. Atlanta and a dozen other cities have adopted such requirements.

Cities say they will enforce mask mandates

Many of those cities vowed to enforce the mask mandates, despite Kemp’s legal maneuvering, including local officials in Kemp’s hometown of Athens and the mayor of Savannah.

“It’s officially official. Gov. Kemp does not give a damn about us,” said Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, whose city was the first in Georgia to require masks. “In Savannah, we will continue to keep the faith and follow the science. Masks will continue to be available.”

The coastal Georgia city approved the mask mandate in late June, threatening a $500 fine for violators.

ExploreCORONAVIRUS IN GEORGIA/COMPLETE COVERAGE
Wearing masks for protections, two Savannah College of Art and Design students wait for their to go order at a local restaurant (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Wearing masks for protections, two Savannah College of Art and Design students wait for their to go order at a local restaurant (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Several Republicans also criticized Kemp’s approach

Several local Republican officials joined the criticism of Kemp. Dalton Mayor David Pennington pointed to the rising number of coronavirus cases in Whitfield County, which set a record this week.

“He needs to leave it up to individual cities and counties to decide what to do,” Pennington said. “I don’t know if masks are the answer, but why don’t we just try it? Nothing else seems to be working.”

Georgia named a “red zone” for coronavirus

Georgia was named in a document prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force as a “red zone” state, meaning it is one of 18 states that had more than 100 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people during the week ending July 11.

The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom based in Washington, D.C., originally reported the dubious designation. The 18 “red zone” states identified in the document, dated July 14, also include Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Texas.

Atlanta school board executive administrator Pierre Gaither (left) and new Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring talk before Herring is sworn in on June 30. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Atlanta school board executive administrator Pierre Gaither (left) and new Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring talk before Herring is sworn in on June 30. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

School districts announce plans to start school virtually

Most of the largest school districts have announced plans to begin the school year virtually, attributing the decision to a recent spike in COVID-19 infections across the region.

Cobb County School District, Fulton County Schools, Atlanta Public Schools, Clayton County Public Schools and the DeKalb County School District announced plans for online learning. The first day of classes is also being delayed until Aug. 17 for several school districts.

Meanwhile, The Gwinnett County School Board decided to keep plans in place to return to in-person classes on Aug. 12 with an option for digital learning.

Emory: Coronavirus vaccine research shows promise

A team that includes researchers from Emory University released findings that showed progress in the race to create a COVID-19 vaccine, but more work is needed to be sure it is safe.

The findings showed high levels of neutralizing antibody activity, above the average seen in blood serum obtained from people recovering from the disease, Emory’s team said.

No serious side effects were found, researchers said, but more than half of the 45 trial study patients said they suffered fatigue, headaches and chills. Researchers said the side effects were more prevalent among the patients who received the strongest of the three dosages tested.

A lead Emory researcher called the results encouraging.

“While there is still a lot of work to do before we have a vaccine that is proven to be safe and effective against COVID-19, this study provides critical information about the safety of the vaccine,” said Dr. Evan Anderson, an associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “Importantly, the vaccine resulted in a robust immune response.”

Staff writers Greg Bluestein, Eric Stirgus, Marlon Manuel and Alexis Stevens contributed to this report.

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