Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance bottoms signed an executive order Wednesday evening requiring masks to be worn inside commercial businesses (like restaurants and grocery stores,) other buildings and spaces open to the public within the city limits, and outdoors when social distancing cannot be maintained. However, the order does not detail how the mandate will be enforced or if violators face fines.
Masks are also required inside Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
According to the order, those exempt from wearing masks include people with medical conditions or disabilities prohibiting them from covering their face, children under 10 years old, and people engaged in consuming food and drink or smoking.
“We will continue to take active measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19 infections in Atlanta,” Bottoms says in a press release. “Public health experts overwhelmingly agree that wearing a face covering helps slow the spread of this sometimes deadly virus.”
Atlanta joins Savannah, East Point, and Athens in requiring masks in public. The cities of Doraville, South Fulton, Fairburn, College Park, and Hapeville are also considering a similar ordinance.
The move comes following several days of record-breaking numbers in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations throughout the state likely sparked by Georgia’s aggressive reopening. Gov. Brian Kemp has called a statewide mask mandate a “bridge too far,” opting instead to embark on a publicity tour prior to the Fourth of July holiday weekend encouraging residents to don a mask whenever possible.
Kemp’s emergency powers prevent local municipalities from enacting more severe COVID-19 measures. It’s unclear if the governor plans to block or challenge these mask ordinances.
While not a statewide mandate, the city’s mask ordinance could help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety felt by front-of-house employees, like hosts, servers, and bartenders, who may face abusive interactions with diners refusing to wear masks.
Chef Deborah VanTrece requires patrons to wear masks while inside her Westside restaurant, Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours. She tells Eater Atlanta people were complying without complaint when the restaurant first reopened in mid-June, but the staff is now beginning to receive pushback from diners on wearing masks. Mostly from men.
“My front of the house staff is primarily all female and most of the pushback has been from men. Big men being combative, towering over young women, can be quite intimidating and it’s such an unnecessary reaction to the small request of wearing a mask,” VanTrece says. “We are even providing the mask. I pray it becomes a requirement for the city, mandated by our mayor, but then how do we go about enforcing it?”
VanTrece is considering shutting down the dining room again and returning to takeout or possibly hiring security to safeguard her employees.
A server working at a restaurant along the Eastside Beltline recently told Eater Atlanta that nine out of 10 people he serves during his shifts aren’t wearing masks. He also faces problems with controlling the actions of larger groups of young people who want to sit together, many of whom are already intoxicated from a previous stop.
In addition to Twisted Soul, West Egg Cafe, 8ARM, 97 Estoria, Le Petit Marche, Sublime Doughnuts, Hodgepodge Coffeehouse, Little’s Food Store, Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q, and breweries such as Monday Night Brewing are among the Atlanta establishments already requiring people to wear masks inside prior to receiving their food and drinks or when moving about the dining room.
Read the mayor’s full executive order below. Details regarding masks can be found in section four.
Stay home if sick. Check the Georgia Department of Public Health website for guidance and updates on the latest number of reported COVID-19 cases.