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Atlanta Mayor Comments On The Efforts To Reopen Georgia


The dance of how much to open in the midst of this pandemic can be seen in Georgia. The governor there lifted the statewide shelter-in-place order for most residents and has allowed some businesses to reopen. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms joins us now to talk about that decision.


KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS: Thank you for having me again.

CHANG: So your state has had over 34,000 coronavirus cases and 1,400 deaths. Do you feel like Georgia is even in a place to be reopening?

BOTTOMS: Well, I remain concerned. All of the numbers that you are seeing now - for as high as they are, it's been with extreme social distancing measures in place. So it does concern me that those numbers will go even higher. I can tell you over the past couple of days, I have seen the numbers tick down a bit, which has been a bit surprising. I think over the next couple of weeks, we will see whether or not the reopening of our state sends us in the other direction.

CHANG: Well, what about Atlanta? Do you think Atlanta should be on the same timeline as the rest of the state?

BOTTOMS: No, I don't. Obviously, Atlanta is a large, urban city with a much more dense population than other parts of the state. We have very high asthma rates in our city. But one of the newest hot spots that we have in our state is in Gainesville, Ga., primarily hitting the Latino community. So I think it's just this reminder whether you are a densely populated city or a more rural town, COVID-19 can still strike, and it can spread very rapidly.

CHANG: Well, do you think, then, that the governor's decision to start reopening your state is irresponsible?

BOTTOMS: I think that there was perhaps a way for us to be very thoughtful about the state's reopening. I don't think that that should have begun with hair salons and barber shops and places that people cannot appropriately socially distance or even have readily available access to the appropriate PPE. So I do think that there could have been a more thoughtful approach.

CHANG: Well, have you had direct conversations with Gov. Kemp about these specific concerns, and did you feel like he really heard them?

BOTTOMS: I have spoken with Gov. Kemp that directly about this, and we have agreed to disagree.

CHANG: This disease continues to disproportionately hit the black community in the U.S. and in Atlanta. Have you seen any signs of progress on that front?

BOTTOMS: We are just really beginning to gather information on specific ethnic classification. So initially, the numbers were very spotty. But I can tell you anecdotally I knew that it was hitting our community much harder. So now that we are gathering this information, we will continue to track it, and we will see where those numbers are. I've seen that up to 80% of people in the state of Georgia who have been hospitalized are African American, as I mentioned. And I think that has a great deal to do with the jobs that are often accessible to black and brown communities in this country.

CHANG: Finally, I can't let you go without asking about a very disturbing video made public last week. This, of course, was the video of the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. He was an unarmed black man who was shot while he was jogging. Two white men have been arrested. You called what happened to Arbery a lynching. And I want to ask you, how confident are you that justice will be served here?

BOTTOMS: It remains to be seen. I mean, it is tragic. It is heartbreaking. And I'll tell you quite honestly, very selfishly, I did not want to watch the video. It even sickens me to think about it as I'm speaking with you now. And I think it is a reality that so many people have to contemplate each time they send their children out the door.

CHANG: Well, I recall the last time you and I talked, you mentioned you're a mother of three black sons. How do you talk to them about what happened to Ahmaud Arbery?

BOTTOMS: You know, this was a very difficult one. The kids - in having the conversation with my 18-year-old, there was an amount of anger in him. And, quite frankly, he didn't want to talk about it. But it's very difficult to have this conversation when a young man that's - how do you conduct yourself when your son is out jogging? This is not something that happened in the abstract. This was a son. That was a brother. This was a friend. I hope that for the sake of his memory, justice is served. But the larger context of this is just - for the sake of our country, this has to stop. It has to.

CHANG: Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta, thank you very much for joining us today.

BOTTOMS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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