Atlanta is moving to “phase two” of its pandemic reopening guidelines, a move that in practice changes very little beyond a nonbinding recommendation that small gatherings are now OK.

The city’s five-phase reopening system is based on data about COVID-19’s spread. Phase one is the most restrictive, and phase two has the exact same guidelines except for permitting private gatherings of up to 10 people with social distancing. Separately, the city’s mask-wearing mandate remains in effect.

Key guidelines that apply to the public are already widely ignored under Gov. Brain Kemp’s looser emergency orders, including limiting travel to essential trips and restricting restaurant service to takeout and delivery. The city continues to follow the guidelines that apply to itself, including the closure of non-essential offices and a moratorium on special event permits.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ announcement in July of a rollback to phase one, along with her creation of the mask-wearing mandate, drew a lawsuit from Kemp that was later withdrawn. Both parties appeared to misrepresent the reopening phase change as a major development despite its voluntary nature and only one significantly different provision.

“COVID-19 continues to ravage families across the city and state,” Bottoms said in a Sept. 11 announcement of the move back to phase two. “We must all remain vigilant, wear a mask, practice social distancing and take the measures needed to ensure the safety and well-being of our communities.”

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.