Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an executive order Wednesday evening requiring all people, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks indoors in public places, including private businesses and establishments. This includes people dining inside the city’s restaurants and bars, unless they are actively engaged in eating or drinking.
COVID-19 cases in Georgia are up by 203 percent over the last 14 days due to the highly transmissible Delta variant, especially among unvaccinated people. While less likely to cause serious illness or hospitalization, breakthrough cases have been found in vaccinated individuals. At present, only 38 percent of eligible Georgians are fully vaccinated, according to tracking data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Wednesday’s mandate follows the recent release of updated data and mask guidance by the CDC, recommending fully vaccinated people also wear face coverings within “public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission.” Citing new data on the Delta variant, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said vaccinated individuals “have the potential to spread that virus to others” with this particular strain. The CDC currently lists Fulton and DeKalb counties, both of which incorporate portions of the city of Atlanta, among the areas of high community transmission.
The mask mandate in Atlanta isn’t surprising given the exponential spread of the Delta variant in the state, and comes just days after Savannah reinstated its citywide mask mandate. COVID-19 cases in Chatham County have risen by 262 percent since mid-July.
New to the Atlanta mask mandate are fines of up to $50 for individual noncompliance, something Bottoms was previously unable to enact under the governor’s public health emergency powers. Governor Brian Kemp allowed Georgia’s public health state of emergency to lapse in late June, ending his powers under the order to override or block local COVID-19 restrictions and mandates. Kemp continues to oppose state or local mandates of any kind in Georgia, urging people instead to wear masks and get vaccinated.
Several Atlanta restaurants began requiring masks again for employees and patrons, including bakery Hell Yeah Gluten Free, Cabbagetown bar 97 Estoria, Fontaine’s Oyster House in Virginia-Highland, and Kirkwood market Poco Loco. Breakthrough cases found among vaccinated staff members caused some restaurants in Atlanta to close temporarily to help mitigate the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 variant.
East Atlanta Village restaurant and bar Argosy temporarily suspended indoor dining on July 18 and later posted a sign essentially barring unvaccinated people from entering the restaurant, following positive COVID-19 results among some of Argosy’s vaccinated employees. Argosy joins a growing number of restaurants across the country with similar no vaccination, no service policies in cities like San Francisco, New York City, Detroit, and Los Angeles.
The new policy at Argosy drew public applause and ire on social media, mostly falling along political lines comparable to the divide caused by mask mandates last year. Georgia congressperson Marjorie Taylor Greene attacked Argosy on her personal Twitter account for its “No Vax, No Service” stance, referring to the policy as “segregation”, while others called out the restaurant for violating HIPAA.
It should be noted that HIPAA, which stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, does not prohibit retail stores or restaurants from asking people for proof of vaccination or from answering any other health-related questions. Individuals have the right to refuse to provide that information upon request. However, asking for this information by a restaurant or retail shop is not a violation under HIPAA, which prohibits the release of personal health information and records by a doctor, physician’s office, or hospital, health insurance or billing company, or other “covered entities” under the Act without an individual’s prior consent.
Read the full executive order from the Atlanta mayor below:
Disclaimer: The latest CDC guidance for vaccinated diners during the COVID-19 outbreak is here; dining out still carries risks for unvaccinated diners and workers. Please be aware of changing local rules, and check individual restaurant websites for any additional restrictions such as mask requirements. Find a local vaccination site here.