Atlanta mayor Andre Dickens ended the city’s indoor mask mandate Friday, February 25, citing low case rates and vaccine and booster advancements as factors in the decision. The mandate has essentially been in place in one form or another since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
Masks are still required at city facilities for public meetings and programs. A temporary moratorium on certain residential evictions in Atlanta also remains in place.
The annoucement comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its COVID-19 prevention guidelines last week. New guidance suggests people living in areas of low transmission for the virus, and who do not have underlying health conditions, can drop masking inside public places, including in schools. The CDC now advises public health agencies focus on the rate of new COVID-19 hospitalizations and less on the rate of new infections within a community.
According to the CDC, both Fulton and DeKalb counties, in which the city of Atlanta resides, are currently experiencing low levels of community spread for COVID-19.
However, some public health officials warn the move to lift indoor masking recommendations for the second time in less than a year is premature, as other variants will likely emerge and another surge is possible this summer. Children under 5 years of age are still not eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
After temporarily lifting the previous mask mandate just before Thanksgiving last year, former Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms reinstated the order a month later when COVID-19 cases began rising sharply in the city due to the highly transmissible omicron variant. Cases reached record levels not previously seen in the pandemic by early January, following the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Scores of restaurants throughout Atlanta ended up closing right before Christmas and New Year’s Eve during what should have been a holiday rebound because of severe staffing shortages and multiple employees out sick with the virus.
Mayor Dickens relaunched the Resurgence Grant Fund in early February, the city’s $10.4 million COVID-19 relief program for small, independent businesses in Atlanta. Starting March 1, all eligible Atlanta businesses and restaurants can apply for up to $40,000 in funding for costs incurred after March 3, 2021.