The May 1 end of the statewide shelter-in-place order to stop the spread of COVID-19 saw an uptick in illegal activity and concerns about the number of people using parks and the Atlanta BeltLine. These concerns were discussed during the Atlanta City Council’s weekly conference call on the pandemic with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

While overall crime is down 37% during the last eight weeks, Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields was candid in the department’s failures over the past weekend as impromptu street parties, gatherings, and illegal street racing were reported across the city and popped up on social media.

“The zones failed to recognize what was going on in their backyards,” Shields said. “We were thrown a curve and the number of calls for officers tripled. I believe people were bored and coming up with their own forms of entertainment. We are instructing the zone commanders to reach out more to the community. We’ll improve operations and get a handle on it.”

Councilmember Joyce Sheperd said she received complaints about parties and street racing in her district and all over the city. “The car racing is out of control,” she said. “People were out partying like it was 1999.”

On May 2, there were throngs of people on the Atlanta BeltLine and in Piedmont Park to watch the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds flyover to salute front-line medical workers. In images circulated on social media, few people were wearing masks and social distancing was hard to maintain on the BeltLine trials.

“The genie is out of the bottle now on not adhering to social distancing, ” Councilmember Michael Julian Bond said. “There was gross, flagrant disregard for social distancing and face coverings not only in our parks, but on the BeltLine.”

Mayor Bottoms said there was a definite uptick in BeltLine usage – up seven percent over the previous week – but praised local businesses along the trail who remained closed and are taking phased approaches to reopening. She encouraged the public to call 311 or 911 to report social distancing issues in the city.

The mayor said Gov. Brian Kemp had refused her request to enforce a city ordinance for people to wear masks in gatherings of 10 or more. She expressed her concerns about public safety officials facing more risk for catching COVID-19.

Bottoms said her city reopening advisory committee would make its final recommendations on how to move forward by May 15.

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.