Atlanta tackling two health crises: COVID-19 and crime

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms addressed two of the city's most prevalent issues during a Tuesday morning press conference: crime and COVID-19.

Bottoms explained the reinstitution of the city's indoor mask mandate and urged Atlantans to get a COVID-19 vaccine. She and Atlanta Police Department officials also provided some details on the fatal stabbing of a woman and her dog in Piedmont Park last week

The mayor was joined by Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant and Dr. Carlos del Rio, Distinguished Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Emory University School of Medicine and Executive Associate Dean for Emory at Grady.

The mayor's office in a release last week said the city was battling "two public health epidemics" being the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the recent crime wave. 

Addressing Piedmont Park stabbing rumors

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said there is no indication that the murder of Katherine Janness at Piedmont Park was a hate crime or that it was perpetrated by a serial killer. 

"I know there have been several rumors there has been a serial killer on the loose in our city — we don't have any evidence of that," Bottoms said. "Also that this was a hate crime — as of now we don't have any proof of that as well. This is not to say that things will not change, but at this point, we don't have any confirmation of any of those things."

Bryant said misinformation regarding the case is causing the police department problems in its investigation. 

Deputy Police Chief Charles Hampton said the Atlanta Police Department is keeping most investigative details private because there are some things on the responsible party or parties would know.

"This is what we use to further our case and bring them to justice," Hampton said. 

Bryant said the homicide was outside of the norm that the department typically sees and utilized state and federal law enforcement partnerships early in the investigation.

‘I have some talented men and women’ investigating Piedmont Park murder

No arrests have been made and no suspects have been identified in the murder of Katherine Janness and Bowie, the dog she was walking before she was stabbed to death in Piedmont Park. 

Using street cameras, police released images of people seen near the park on the night of the murder

Police department officials said the people are not suspects. They're potential witnesses who could have seen something that could help with the investigation.

Cameras, installed in the park as a pilot project in 2008 and reassessed in 2017, function with obsolete technology according to Atlanta Cheif Operating Officer Jon Keen. The cameras remained in the park because their presence was still deemed helpful. 

The city is working to determine what information, if any, can be extracted from the cameras. 

Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Charles Hampton was adamant regarding his confidence in his investigators. He said investigators are following up on leads pertinent to the case, including someone with unexplained injuries, attraction to the case in the media, or a possible change in appearance. 

"We have the talent and we’re going to bring justice to this case," Hampton said. 

It's been nearly a week since Janness went out to walk her partner's dog, Bowie, and was found stabbed multiple times by an assailant. Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said he requested the FBI is to be involved in the investigation.

Bryant said the murder did not fit the typical framework of the "COVID Crime Wave." Those crimes are more often related to property, he said, committed against suspects who usually know their victims. The Piedmont Park stabbing, he said, is different. 

"I felt that we needed to collaborate with as many resources as we can," he said.

Atlanta mayor says ‘we’ve gone backward' in fighting COVID-19 spread

Fulton and DeKalb counties have been designated by the CDC as areas of high transmission. 

Last week, the mayor signed an executive order requiring masks in all public places while indoors. The mayor’s order requires "all persons in a public place, including private businesses and establishments, to wear a mask or a cloth face covering over their nose and mouth when indoors." 

This is following a new series of recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As COVID-19 hospitalizations in the city have increased, Bottoms and del Rio both emphasized that vaccination is the best way to prevent severe cases.

"Please do not wait to get vaccinated," Bottoms said. "It is not worth it." 

The executive order does not include people eating or drinking, people who are in their homes, or people who have legitimate health conditions preventing them from wearing a mask.
There are penalties for violating the order. The first time is a warning, the second time is a fine of $25, and then $50 for every offense after that.

Del Rio explained that Fulton and DeKalb counties are below the cases-per-100,000 residents threshold to receive the CDC's "high transmission designation," but the positive test rate in both regions are high. That, he said, triggered the change in mask-wearing guidance. 

He emphasized that hospitalizations are driven mostly by unvaccinated people. About 95% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. 

"Vaccines are not Republican or Democrat," del Rio said. 

Bottoms said there are no plans to institute a lockdown in the city, but she said officials will continue to monitor the transmission data and consider other ways to mitigate transmission if they are deemed necessary. 

"We're just asking people to please wear a mask and please get vaccinated," she said. "It's very simple."

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