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How Atlanta is bracing for impact as novel coronavirus, fears spread

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The city’s long-hyped NCAA Final Four isn’t happening, and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has created a Coronavirus Pandemic Coordination Team

A photo of an empty Atlanta street with a Midtown skyline at right.
Parts of Atlanta have been noticeably less peopled this week.

Like many cities across the globe, metro Atlanta is abuzz with talk and worries about COVID-19, a disease spread by a novel coronavirus.

While this Southeastern U.S. travel and commerce hub is far from the epicenter of what the World Health Organization is now calling a pandemic, the implications of the virus’ growth are being felt here more by the day. And the impact is already significant.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump enacted a temporary travel ban on most European cities, a move that’s sure to frustrate travelers moving in and out of the world’s busiest passenger airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International.

And according to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, there are now at least 31 coronavirus cases in Georgia across 12 counties, including three confirmed and three “presumptive positive” cases in Fulton County. The governor has called a press conference for 1 p.m. and asked lawmakers for $100 million in emergency funding, as the AJC reports.

Now, Atlanta and its environs are feeling the blow of the fast-moving illness—and financial repercussions seem imminent.

In April, for instance, the city was set to host the NCAA Final Four basketball championship.

Now, though, according to the New York Times, the tournament will be carried out without live fans in attendance, likely meaning the thousands of people who were expected to converge on the city to watch the end of March Madness will stay home. Sports pundits have been portending the tournament may be cancelled altogether, especially following the NBA’s decision last night to suspend all games.

Atlanta city and sports officials have been hyping the cancelled college basketball tourney since it was awarded to the city in 2014—long before Mercedes-Benz Stadium was even finished.

Local leaders have also been taking steps to frustrate the spread of the virus.

Midtown’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade has been cancelled, according to CBS46.

Emory University is shuttering its residential facilities and extending spring break, school officials announced.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms postponed her upcoming State of the City address at the behest of the event’s title sponsor, Coca-Cola.

“While the number of presumed cases of coronavirus in Atlanta is currently low, we believe acting with an abundance of caution is the right thing to do for all of us,” the soda company said in a letter to would-be guests of the mayor’s speech.

The mayor has also issued an administrative order to create a Coronavirus Pandemic Coordination Team, as well as one that temporarily prohibits the city’s watershed department from shutting people’s water off if they’re behind on bills.

“Access to water is paramount in the prevention of COVID-19 or any infectious health threat and no one should be deprived of this fundamental resource because of an inability to pay,” Bottoms said in a statement.

Additionally, the Atlanta City Council is testing out a system that would allow officials to host meetings remotely.

”We want to be prepared for anything that may cause disruptions to our daily activities and access to City Hall,” Council President Felicia Moore said in a statement.

The effort echoes recent calls for more teleworking, or working from home, to avoid potentially bringing dangerous germs into intown workplaces.

Mobility advocacy group Georgia Commute Options is encouraging and helping metro Atlanta companies to enact teleworking systems.

“One of the recommended strategies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 is for employers to explore telecommuting and flexible work hour policies and practices,” said GCO marketing director Jill Goldberg, in an email to Curbed Atlanta.

“Given this recommendation, we expect there may be an increase in companies testing and/or implementing telework and flexwork programs if COVID-19 continues to spread in the metro Atlanta area,” she added.

It’s still unclear how all this could impact the metro Atlanta housing market, although mortgage rates have dropped as a result of fears of the new coronavirus.

And, as a report by Curbed New York points out, with interest so rates low, some buyers could be inclined to pull money out of the stock market and invest in real estate.