Mayor Bottoms lifts indoor mask mandate in Atlanta

Masked and unmasked individuals walk the campus of Georgia Tech in September. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Masked and unmasked individuals walk the campus of Georgia Tech in September. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has lifted the public indoor mask mandate for the city, she announced on Twitter Monday evening.

She said Atlanta is officially in the “green zone” for COVID-19 amid declining case numbers.

“While it makes me personally anxious, I’ve always said we’d follow the science. Thus, we are lifting the city-wide mask mandate,” Bottoms said in a tweet.

Bottoms issued an executive order in late July mandating that residents wear a mask whenever indoors in a public place, even if they have been vaccinated. At that time, the delta variant was beginning to rapidly accelerate. The directive applied to private businesses like restaurants, salons and grocery stores, as well as public property.

The mayor is now lifting that order, but is still mandating that masks be worn in all city facilities.

Bottoms said in a statement Tuesday that Atlanta is “certainly not out of the woods with the pandemic.” She said businesses can still implement their own individual mandates.

“For the safety and wellbeing of our communities, I still encourage everyone to continue to wear a mask and get vaccinated,” Bottoms said.

The city started following a color-coded system for COVID guidelines in August that tracks the pandemic’s status in the city — from worst to best — by referring to red, yellow, green and blue zones. The city enters the green zone when, over the course of 10 days of monitoring, new COVID cases average between 20 and 75, hospitalizations average between 50 and 200 and test positivity is 1% to 5%.

The blue zone is the safest zone, with average new cases below 20, average hospitalizations below 50, and test positivity below 1%.

After Bottoms issued the city’s first public mask mandate in the summer of 2020, Gov. Brian Kemp went to court to block the order. But he dropped his lawsuit in August 2020 and allowed some local governments who met a coronavirus “threshold” to impose the restrictions. A few months ago, he ended the public health state of emergency that gave him sweeping powers to enact or block local rules.

Atlanta was one of several Georgia cities that reinstated a mask mandate over the summer amid the spread of the variant. When Savannah put its mandate back in place, it immediately sparked a fresh debate among city and county leaders over whether to follow Savannah’s lead and take more drastic action as cases rose. A growing number of k-12 school districts also announced they would require masks as the new school year started.

Statewide, COVID cases have dropped over the last two months, after reaching a new peak in early September. Half of Georgia residents are fully vaccinated from COVID-19, and 56% have received at least one dose.

Bottoms ended her tweet with a plea to residents: “Please get vaccinated.”