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Atlantans asked to not gather in groups exceeding 50 as coronavirus precaution

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Social distancing measures weren’t universally obliged on a festive, temperate weekend

A group of many people walk among an open trail with grass behind it and people on a park at left.
The Atlanta Beltline’s Eastside Trail was teeming with people Saturday as temperatures in the city topped 80 degrees.
Josh Green, Curbed Atlanta

Amidst a dismally wet winter, Saturday brought a glorious reprieve in Atlanta of 80-degree temps and sunny skies. Signs of St. Patrick’s Day revelry (green, punny shirts and silly hats) were ubiquitous. City parks and the Beltline’s Eastside Trail teemed with people. Restaurant patios were full enough to be loud at a distance. And from so many backyards came the thunk of cornhole matches at cookouts.

Concerns related to mass cancellations and a spreading pandemic, at least for a few hours, seemed distant.

Sunday brought news from the foremost experts on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and city officials that crowds of any type will be discouraged in coming weeks, as operations related to development at the city level are expected to change and adapt, too.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experts and the heads of city parks say larger municipal green spaces are well-suited for maintaining appropriate social distancing. Like the Beltline, all Atlanta city parks remain open to the public. Some Atlanta restaurants, meanwhile, have shifted to take-out only, temporary closures, or operating at reduced capacity, as Curbed’s sister site Eater Atlanta relays.

“It really appears to take a fairly close, and often sustained, exposure to someone in an indoor setting where there’s the greatest likelihood of transmitting the virus,” Dr. James Buehler, a Drexel University clinical professor and former Philadelphia health commissioner, told the NPR affiliate in that city.

A large patio beneath trees with many people under large yellow umbrellas.
Patios along the Beltline’s Eastside Trail on Saturday.
A series of patios along a storefront and grass walkway.

Nonetheless, in city government, Atlanta officials are pulling out all the stops to adapt to mounting worries of the COVID-19 pandemic, amending day-to-day rituals in an effort to curb large public gatherings.

The Georgia Department of Public Health is reporting that confirmed cases of COVID-19 have risen across the state from 99 on Sunday to 121 today, with one death.

Fulton County currently has the most confirmed cases (27), followed by Cobb (22), and DeKalb counties (10), per the public health department.

Starting today, Atlanta City Hall will be closed to the public “as we shift our operations to accommodate remote working and eliminate as much person-to-person interrelation as possible,” reads a statement issued Sunday from the city’s planning department.

Standard operating procedures are expected to evolve in coming days and weeks, as city officials learn more about how the novel coronavirus could impact government functions.

For now, per the planning department, any permits that require paper plans to be submitted to the city’s offices of zoning or buildings will not be accepted until further notice.

Plans submitted online should be processed as usual.

Additionally: “Inspection services will continue, although there will intermittently be delays in service as we equip all inspectors with critical protective gear.”

In other City Hall news, the Atlanta City Council meeting scheduled for today at 1 p.m. is now slated to take place Tuesday by phone.

Interested parties can access the meeting via conference call (dial 877-579-6743 and enter ID No. 8315991256), and public comments can be provided by email (epc@atlantaga.gov).

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms also urged constituents on Sunday to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people, as the CDC recommends.