Several states with large rural populations — and Republican leadership — are looking to get back to normal sooner than some medical experts believe is best. With most states on lockdown during March and April, these political leaders are planning to lift restrictions in May with hopes that the novel coronavirus doesn’t return.
The Washington Post reported that states including Tennessee, Missouri and Idaho were making changes to their stay-at-home orders to give residents more options. But some of the mayors in these states’ biggest cities have been vocal in their belief that this is a move in the wrong direction.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms (D), among the most vocal politicians in Georgia, has pointed to the density and diversity of the city — and how the coronavirus affects those populations in the city — as one of the main reasons for her stance. Social distancing can be challenging for those living and working more closely together as it is. Reopening the state could make putting practices in place to prevent contracting the virus more difficult.
Bottoms told The Post’s Robert Costa in a PostLive event Tuesday:
This transcends race. It transcends gender. It transcends economic lines and party lines. There are people across this country who are being impacted. But the facts are the facts and the data is the data. It is impacting African American communities at a higher rate, and Atlanta has a very diverse population with many of the underlying conditions that we’ve talked about — asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure. Those are conditions that are prevalent in the city.
Despite reopening changes taking place in Tennessee, Nashville Mayor John Cooper (D) said Tuesday: “A balanced approach is central to reopening our economy and cannot come at the cost of our hard earned progress in flattening the curve and covid-19. Your efforts will largely determine the end of the safer at home order."
And the mayor of St. Louis tweeted that she was taking a different approach to the issue than her governor.
This afternoon, I had the chance to speak again with @GovParsonMO and other Missouri mayors regarding #COVID19.— Mayor Lyda Krewson (@LydaKrewson) April 28, 2020
At this time, @STLCityGov will not be lifting our mandatory #StayHome order -- even as the state begins to slowly reopen beginning Monday, May 4.
But one of the most visible splits exists between the Republican governor of Georgia and the Democratic mayor of Atlanta, the state’s largest city.
Bottoms suggested that state and city leaders could find common ground on their response if they look to emulate the measures in other states that have seen some progress with their numbers.
“The challenge is that we are lifting our foot off the pedal,” she said at Post Live. “And we are not yet out of the woods. It concerns me when I look at states that are trending in the right direction like New York and you see Washington state was able to make a tremendous amount of progress. It was because they were diligent in continuing to socially distance. But in Georgia, we are going in the opposite direction and that’s a huge challenge.”
An epidemiological model shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects that the number of daily coronavirus deaths in Georgia will double as states in the Southeast reopen.
In response to her criticism of Kemp and other states planning to reopen, Bottoms has found herself on the receiving end of a racist text. But she told The Post that the messages, which are being investigated, won’t shut her up.
“I won’t be silent,” she told Costa. “I was not elected mayor to be a coward. And I won’t be silent about this.”
This rift between city and state leaders doesn’t appear to be winding down. Like many other disagreements, it falls largely along party lines and appears to be a proxy for so many other issues that have risen to the surface in this hyperpartisan moment. But one thing mayors have going for them is widespread support. In a recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, nearly 2 in 3 Americans say restrictions on businesses in their states are appropriate.