Atlanta city leaders grapple with residents defying stay-at-home order

A man wears a mask while walking with the crowd on the Atlanta BeltLine trail on Sunday. Curtis Compton

A man wears a mask while walking with the crowd on the Atlanta BeltLine trail on Sunday. Curtis Compton

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and several Atlanta City Council members express concern Tuesday that many city residents aren’t following the mayor’s stay-at-home order, and are impairing the city’s ability to contain the coronavirus.

During a conference call in which Bottoms updated council members of the city’s coronavirus response, they discussed people congregating in parks to play football, in churches to worship and at a birthday party for a 95-year-old grandfather.

Bottoms said she drove the entire length of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive on Monday, and was disturbed by the interactions she witnessed.

"It's very clear that the messaging is still not resonating with many people," Bottoms said.

Bottoms also told the council that more than a dozen city employees have tested positive for the virus, including seven police officers.

Councilman Michael Julian Bond reported that his aunt died on Monday from the virus an hour after he spoke with her. He implored Bottoms to shut down parks, the Beltine and other city trails where people come in close proximity to each another.

"It's like business as usual, people being out," Bond said. "This is a very serious circumstance. It can take anybody's life."

Bottoms said she hasn’t closed city parks or trails based on the advice of Dr. Carlos Del Rio, a professor in Emory University’s Division of Infectious Diseases. The mayor said she wouldn’t hesitate to do so if Del Rio instructs her.

“I’m a lawyer,” Bottoms said. “I’m not an infectious disease expert.”

In an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday, Del Rio said parks and the Beltline present a complicated problem.

“I am trying to avoid having to lose them as I believe it is important for people to be able to go outside and exercise,” Del Rio said, adding that team sports should clearly be avoided.

“I suggested to the Mayor that she ‘strongly encourage’ practicing social distancing in parks and the Beltline and that she considers a schedule in which maybe ‘vulnerable populations’ may walk at certain times and families and runners at other times, much like grocery stores are doing,” Del Rio said. “The concern is obviously how to enforce this. I am looking at other cities and talking to others and, it may well be that we end up soon recommending that they are closed down.”

Efforts to control the spread of the virus have varied significantly.

Some cities have closed down parks and beaches. Police cited a pastor in Louisiana for violating a prohibition on gatherings after he held a church service. A pastor of a mega church in Florida who held two Sunday services was arrested and jailed.

Bottoms said residents who spot large gatherings of people should contact ATL311, the city’s non-emergency system. Information can be reported to the system’s mobile app,, over twitter or by dialing 311.

City of Atlanta Director of Emergency Preparedness Felipe den Brok told the council that city is competing with several northern states and California to purchase protective gear for employees who must remain in contact with the public.

“They are paying premium prices on all the supplies,” den Brok said.