Decatur City Commission won’t renew mask mandate, cites high vaccination rates in DecaturFILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES: A long time street corner vendor in unincorporated DeKalb County shifted his focus from selling t-shirts to masks, gloves and sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Dean Hesse.
This story has been updated.
Decatur, GA — The Decatur City Commission began discussion again about a mask mandate for the city during the regular meeting on Monday, Aug. 2. City Manager Andrea Arnold did not recommend a mask mandate at this time due to the city’s vaccination and infection rates, and given that many institutions in the city are continuing to require masks.
The City Commission also wanted to ensure that the public and the business community have an opportunity to provide input on a potential mask mandate, if the board chose to adopt one.
“I think the consensus is that we all recognize the value of wearing masks and that masks give the extra, added protection even when you’re vaccinated and the delta variant is of significant concern,” Mayor Patti Garrett said. “I think what I’m hearing is that we’re not ready to do anything quite yet. We would like to ask the city manager to continue to monitor the numbers and the trends and use our emergency management team to see what their feedback may be.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended that vaccinated individuals resume wearing masks in public, indoor spaces in areas with substantial and high transmission of COVID-19.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky defined substantial transmission as areas that have 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 people over a seven day period. High transmission is places that have more than 100 cases in a seven day period per 100,000 people.
DeKalb County is identified as an area of high transmission, according to the CDC website,
According to the DeKalb County Department of Health, there have been 1,528 total positive COVID-19 cases in the 30030 ZIP code, as of July 27. In the two-week period from June 24 to July 7, there were less than five cases reported in the ZIP code, but that number increased to 15 cases for the following two-period of July 8-21.
“I would not be surprised if in the next 14-day period that number is even larger because just like the rest of the country the delta variant is definitely within our community,” Arnold said.
She added that she believes the best thing the city has going is the community’s vaccination rate, which is evaluated by census tracts.
“When I look at those census tracts we’re anywhere between, it ranges, so two of the tracts show that we’re between 60 and 80% of the eligible population being vaccinated and two other tracts showing we’re 80 to 100% of the population being vaccinated,” Arnold said.
Arnold later told Decaturish that those numbers were for census tract ranks, which compares the percent of vaccinated people compared to other census tracts, not the percent of individuals who are vaccinated, according to the COVID-19 Final V1 dashboard. She said the city is still in the top tiers but it wasn’t the percentage vaccinated.
“Those are some tremendous numbers especially compared to the numbers provided by the CDC as of today for DeKalb County the percentage vaccinated of 12 years of age or older fully vaccinated is just at 30.4% of the county, so obviously that’s extremely concerning and such a huge variance from what we’re seeing right here in our community,” she said during the meeting.
The four census tracts in Decatur range from 49% to 68% of residents receiving one vaccine dose and from 44% to 62% of residents being fully vaccinated, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health’s vaccine dashboard.
“It is unclear if this is a percentage of all residents in each tract, or those residents that are eligible for the vaccine (i.e., 12 and older). It appears it is total population, but I haven’t verified that,” Arnold told Decaturish in an email.
Arnold said during the meeting that data tells here the overall the Decatur community is aware of the efficacy and necessity of the COVID-19 vaccines as they are the primary tool available to fight the pandemic.
In Decatur, masks are required in all city and county facilities. City Schools of Decatur is requiring everyone to wear masks in its facilities. Agnes Scott College, medical facilities and many businesses in the city are also requiring masks, Arnold said.
It has been Arnold’s observation that many businesses left up signs about requiring masks when the city’s mask ordinance expired.
“With that said, businesses should continue to require masks, they should follow the CDC guidance but also encourage businesses to do everything that they can to make sure that their employees are vaccinated,” Arnold said. “I do believe that the vaccinations are the key to stopping the virus and clearly a strong majority of our residents are well aware of that.”
All the commissioners agreed and added that DeKalb County has a mask ordinance in place that may provide a layer of protection to businesses. The county’s mandate only covers unincorporated parts of the county, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
DeKalb County adopted a mask mandate in July 2020 that requires people to wear masks in public places. DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond recently said that the county never rescinded the mandate and it is still in effect, according to the AJC.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued an executive order this week requiring all persons in public places, including private businesses and establishments, to wear a face mask over their nose and mouth while indoors. The order came as a response to the CDC’s updated guidance, according to a press release from the city of Atlanta.
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