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POWER POLL: Community leaders see need for masks, local decision making

07/16/2020 - Marietta, Georgia - during the ribbon cutting for the new Wellstar Kennestone Hospital Emergency Department building in Marietta, Thursday, July 16, 2020. The department is a 263,000-square-foot facility, which will be one of the top two largest and busiest emergency departments in the nation (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
07/16/2020 - Marietta, Georgia - during the ribbon cutting for the new Wellstar Kennestone Hospital Emergency Department building in Marietta, Thursday, July 16, 2020. The department is a 263,000-square-foot facility, which will be one of the top two largest and busiest emergency departments in the nation (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Concerned with the recent surge in the state’s COVID-19 case, nearly half of metro leaders say it is time that all Georgians be required to wear face masks in public.

Others who responded to the Atlanta Power Poll survey want more drastic action, with one in five saying Georgians should return to full sheltering in place until health conditions improve.

“We have become lax and complacent, and we are not doing enough to protect our communities,” Fulton County School Board President Julia Bernath said in comments to Power Poll. “Unfortunately, we are now paying the price.”

The Fulton County Government Center was sporadically bustling in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, on Monday, June 29, 2020. All visitors and employees entering the Fulton County Government Center were 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)
The Fulton County Government Center was sporadically bustling in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, on Monday, June 29, 2020. All visitors and employees entering the Fulton County Government Center were 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

The Atlanta Power Poll is part of a nationwide survey that asks community leaders for their opinions on important local issues. In Georgia, the poll appears exclusively on AJC.com and in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The latest survey was taken June 13 to June 16, amid growing concerns about a rise in coronavirus cases in Georgia and other parts of the nation and calls for tougher safety measures, such as mandatory face masks, in the city of Atlanta and elsewhere.

Sent via email to 965 metro Atlanta business, political, and civic leaders, the survey does not have the precision of a scientific poll. It is meant to provide insight into the thinking of metro leaders, 149 (or 15.4 percent) of whom responded.

Nearly 48 percent believe face masks in public should be mandatory, while about 19 percent would return to sheltering in place and about 13 percent would dramatically ramp up testing. Roughly 9 percent would leave it to the public to decide how to stay safe, and about 11 percent suggest pressing on, saying the economy needs to be Job 1.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in Atlanta and Mayor Van R. Johnson in Savannah have in recent days reinstated some restrictions and issued mandates for face masks in public. However, Gov. Brian Kemp has said they cannot by law go farther than the state, which, to date, only recommends masks.

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Georgia is one of more than 40 states that have seen a recent rise in cases and are wrangling with what to do next. Georgia reported 30,000 COVID-19 cases in the first three months of the pandemic but then soared to 60,000 cases in another 26 days. On July 15, the state reported 3,871 new cases of the disease, the second-highest daily count to date, 37 deaths, and 417 hospitalizations.

In comments to Atlanta Power Poll, Atlanta School Board Vice Chair Eshe’ Collins said cities “should be given the autonomy to set stricter guidelines to combat COVID-19.

“The governor’s plan should serve as the basic expectation,” Collins said.

Leslie Gordon, executive director of the William Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum, concurred.

“When the economy becomes more important than our citizens’ lives, then it’s clear that priorities are upside down,” she said. “Masks need to be mandated and cities, who know their own needs, should be able to decide what’s best for their municipality.”

The Fulton County Government Center was sporadically bustling in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, on Monday, June 29, 2020. All visitors and employees entering the Fulton County Government Center were 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)
The Fulton County Government Center was sporadically bustling in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, on Monday, June 29, 2020. All visitors and employees entering the Fulton County Government Center were 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

Almost half of the poll respondents said Kemp should set standards that enable local communities to implement stricter measures based on the health metrics, something Decatur City Commissioner Kelly Walsh feels strongly about.

“Local municipalities need the authority to make decisions that will create better outcomes for their residents during this pandemic,” Walsh wrote in comments to Power Poll. “Cities should be able to pass a mask ordinance for example in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.”

DeKalb County Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson expressed similar sentiments.

“…Municipalities know the needs and dynamics of their area,” she said. “As an elected official, it is a major hindrance to have state law that conflicts with and supersedes local jurisdictions.”

Lastly, the poll provides a glimpse at life months after the start of the coronavirus crisis. More than half of community leaders say that no more than 25 percent of their co-workers are back working in the office.

ExploreREAD MORE: Previous Atlanta Power Poll survey results
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What we asked

What percentage of the workforce where you work is now working in the office?

Total %

More than 75 percent -- 29 19.46

Between 50 percent and 75 percent -- 16 10.74

25 percent to 50 percent -- 21 14.09

Less than 25 percent -- 83 55.70

In light of the recent increase of COVID-19 cases in Georgia, what do you believe needs to be done?

Total %

Return to full shelter-in-place rules until conditions improve -- 28 18.79

Require people to wear masks in public -- 71 47.65

Dramatically expand testing -- 20 13.42

Allow people to make their own decisions about how to stay safe -- 14 9.40

Press on; getting the economy moving is the priority right now -- 16 10.74

Should the governor empower local officials to make decisions and have more authority in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus?

Total %

The governor’s public health mandates related to the coronavirus should apply the same all over the state -- 28 18.79

The governor should set standards that instruct communities to implement stricter measures based on health metrics -- 72 48.32

The governor should allow local communities to set mandates either stricter or looser than the state mandate if they desire -- 41 27.52

Local communities should have complete control of mandates -- 8 5.37

Comments

“Municipalities should be given the autonomy to set stricter guidelines to combat COVID-19. The governor’s plan should serve as the basic expectation.” – Eshe’ Collins, vice chairman of the Atlanta Board of Education

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“When the economy becomes more important than our citizens’ lives, then it’s clear that priorities are upside down. Masks need to be mandated and cities, who know their own needs, should be able to decide what’s best for their municipality.” – Leslie Gordon, executive director of the William Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum

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“We have become lax and complacent, and we are not doing enough to protect our communities. Unfortunately, we are now paying the price. Our situation will continue to worsen unless we each take responsibility for protecting ourselves and others.” – Julia Bernath, president of the Fulton County Board of Education

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“The ability of municipalities to create and enforce stricter legislative measures should rest with each jurisdiction, as municipalities know the needs and dynamics of their area. As an elected official, it is a major hindrance to have state law that conflicts with and supersedes local jurisdictions, because it allows people to choose which law they follow.” – Lorraine Cochran-Johnson, a member of the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners

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“The Governor should allow more, strict local directives, but should continue to the be the floor of allowed activities, which should also be increased in impact and strictness.” – Jonathan Lewin, President, Chairman & CEO of Emory Healthcare

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“Local municipalities need the authority to make decisions that will create better outcomes for their residents during this pandemic. Cities should be able to pass a mask ordinance for example in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Cities should also receive a portion of the CARES act funding from their county and/or the state. This will be critical for maintaining service delivery during harsh budget losses.” – Kelly Walsh, District 1 Commissioner, Decatur City Commissioners