Atlanta Mayor Assesses Coronavirus Impact On Her City
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The national numbers of sick and dead are staggering. In the U.S., it is over 600,000 who are sick and 24,000 who have died. One city that's been especially hard-hit by the illness is Atlanta, Ga. It's a city that's home to the headquarters of major companies and, at least during normal times, a city that teams with arts, music and sports. Keisha Lance Bottoms is the city's mayor, and she joins us now.
KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS: Thank you for having me today.
CHANG: So you were one of the early ones. I mean, you started limiting gatherings, and you issued a stay-at-home order for Atlanta weeks before the governor of your state did. Can you just walk me through the conversations you had to make that decision? Like, did you consult with mayors of other comparable cities, the heads of public schools? How did that work?
BOTTOMS: So I meet quarterly with a group of CEOs in Atlanta. They're heads of Fortune 500 companies throughout the city. Invited to our quarterly meeting was Dr. Carlos del Rio from Emory University, one of the leading infectious disease experts in the nation. And he essentially shared with us that we had a 24-to-48-hour window that we needed to close things down. And I left there in a state of shock, but I knew that we needed to move quickly, and we did. And the great part about that - having the CEOs in the room with me to hear the down-low that I received was helpful because many of our major companies shut down that day.
CHANG: Well, when do you see Atlanta businesses reopening? I mean, what are the benchmarks that you want to hit before a reopening happens?
BOTTOMS: Just as I listened and followed the science when I receive that down-low from Dr. Carlos del Rio, I will listen and follow the science as it relates to when we should reopen our city. I think the biggest mistake that we can make is to be so eager to get things back to normal that we put people's lives in jeopardy. And so I am certain it won't be before the beginning of May. Atlanta has some of the highest asthma rates in the country. And I have four children in my household who are asthmatic. And so you think about a large African American population with many other underlying conditions that have proven to be deadly for people who are stricken with COVID-19, it is most important that we take our time and we be thoughtful.
CHANG: Well, how are you working to help the black community there stay healthy in terms of social distancing, making that a feasible option for them?
BOTTOMS: Part of it has been simply educating our communities. I was very disturbed about two weeks into this pandemic to ride through an area of town that's primarily African American and poor and to see that the messaging was not getting out. So I've called upon many of our social influencers - our hip-hop community in Atlanta - asking them to help me spread the word. So it's important, obviously, to have conversations on NPR, but it's also important to have those same conversations on Instagram and however people receive their information. But there's still more work to be done, so we've taken down the nets at our basketball courts. But in some more affluent areas, we've had to remove tennis courts. So I think that transcends race. I think the more that we see on television and the more discussions we have on urban radio and on mainstream radio, I think that the messaging is getting out, but it's still more work to be done.
CHANG: If I could just pivot for a moment here - I mean, this is a national election year, obviously. You are a Democrat. I feel I would be remiss not to ask you this question. Vice President Biden has promised to choose a woman as his running mate. Would you be interested in that job?
BOTTOMS: You know, I think it's great that he is choosing a woman. And what I've said repeatedly is I want Vice President Biden to choose the person who he thinks will help him best beat Donald Trump in November. And so if it - if it's me, I would be honored, but if it is a Green Martian that helps him get over the finish line, then I think that's who he needs to go with.
CHANG: I do also want to ask you this. A woman named Tara Reade has accused Biden of sexual assault, allegations which the Biden campaign has denied. Does that accusation in any way affect the way you view Biden's candidacy?
BOTTOMS: No, it does not. You know, I don't know much about her story or what her accusations are, but what I do know about Joe Biden is that he is a man of high integrity, and I know that he respects women. And so I'm honored that he's our nominee. I know him to be a man of the highest integrity.
CHANG: Keisha Lance Bottoms is the mayor of Atlanta.
Thank you very much for your time today.
BOTTOMS: Thank you for having me.
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