On Friday, the Beltline began urging residents to stay off the popular path except for essential trips. Saturday morning, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms appeared on CNN and told Atlantans to “stay at home” before the coronavirus pandemic worsens.
But many Atlantans didn’t heed those warnings on Saturday, as sunny spring weather acted as a warm invitation to get outside. With intown neighborhoods free of the usual weekend traffic, residents took to the city’s sidewalks, parks, paths and outdoor markets to get some fresh air in the age of coronavirus and social isolation.
Bottoms has issued a stay-at-home order for the city, but allowed the Beltline and city parks to stay open, even as she closed playgrounds and ordered the city’s residents to shelter in place. On Friday, Beltline President and CEO Clyde Higgs said the Beltline should be used only as a “transportation corridor” for people who need to go to work or get groceries, medical supplies and services — not for recreation.
“I kind of wish they just cut it all off and say, ‘Everybody stay home,’” said Blaze Golik, pausing during a run on the Beltline near Inman Park. “It’s a habit, it’s gratifying, but at the same time, until they shut everything down, it’s gonna be a perpetual issue.”
As the temperature approached 80 degrees early Saturday afternoon, many on the Beltline were jogging, walking dogs or taking leisurely strolls. In the field next to Historic Fourth Ward Skatepark, groups continued to have picnics and play sports — though the crowd was likely thinner than it would be on a regular Saturday.
Some walkers and bicyclists wore masks or bandanas. Several people said they were not worried about the crowds on the path, so long as they keep a safe distance between others — officials recommend a minimum of 6 feet for “social distancing.” But on the Beltline, that proved to be a hard task at times, since the paved path is only 14 feet wide.
“I self-isolate, except for a two-hour walk that I do in the neighborhoods every day. If I didn’t do that, I’d go nuts,” said Lorena Baker, 60, who only crossed the Beltline at one point to get to Old Fourth Ward. Nowadays, she said, “I’m never on the Beltline.”
Though the Freedom Farmers Market at the Carter Center didn’t officially open until 9 a.m. on Saturday, it was already busy with customers by 8:30 a.m.
Market manager Holly Hollingsworth allowed senior citizens to come in early to pick up fresh vegetables, eggs and meat, from about a dozen farmers and prepared food vendors. Only 50 people were allowed in at a time and they had to wash their hands with soap and water at two handwashing stations at the front of the market. Farmers and vendors wore latex or plastic gloves.
Mary Leight, 70, of Atlanta, said she’s a regular at the market and wasn’t planning to alter her routine despite the pandemic, and despite the fact she’s in the age group health experts say are more vulnerable to the virus.
“You’re told you’re in that group, but you never think of yourself as being vulnerable,” Leight said, as she held a canvas bag full of turnips, chard and asparagus. “The vulnerable ones are my mother. She’s in her 90s and in assisted living. I can’t go and see her.”
Across town in Piedmont Park, picnics and small group hangouts dotted the fields, and its paths remained popular for walkers and joggers. Parkgoers’ cars crowded the local neighborhood streets, another sign that Piedmont had become a popular refuge for those seeking some vitamin D on Saturday.
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Grant Park, meanwhile, was much less crowded on Saturday. Walkers and joggers were able to have paths to themselves throughout the park, free of the anxiety that can accompany a trip outside nowadays.
Justin Min, 24, relaxed with two friends far in a secluded, shaded area of Grant Park.
“We started over at Ponce City today, but we saw that it was way too busy,” he said. “We ended up here. … We like it because there’s not a lot of people and it’s not as crowded.”
Across the city, signs of social distancing were still evident — walkers giving one another a wide berth when passing, runners jogging in place until enough space opens up to continue.
At Sevanada Natural Foods Market in Little Five Points, about a dozen customers stood outside in line waiting to get in, since the store only allowed 25 people inside at a time. Rather than stand 6 feet apart most customers stood 10 to 15 feet apart.
But as Lakeida Wilder, 40, stood waiting her turn, another woman who was wearing earbuds and talking on her phone approached Wilder. The woman was headed toward a garbage can near Wilder, but as she got within three feet of Wilder, Wilder stepped back and gave her wide berth. When the woman walked away after throwing away her trash, Wilder was incensed.
“She wasn’t even paying attention!” Wilder said. “You wonder, how are regular people getting (coronavirus)? Well it’s like that. Being careless.”
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