TIME 100 Talks
August 13, 2020 1:30 PM EDT

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who was sued by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp over the city’s mask mandate last month, said that the state opened up too soon and that it should roll back its lifting of coronavirus restrictions.

“We opened up too soon. That’s the reality of it,” Bottoms said during a TIME 100 Talks discussion with Ashley C. Ford, adding that “it’s not getting any better.” For some families, who have lost loved ones, it is too late “but it’s not too late for this state to turn this trend around,” she added.

Bottoms said Georgia should have followed New York’s lead, adding that the state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, “made very sound decisions (…) in terms of closing down” despite being hit hard as the pandemic first emerged in the U.S.

Bottoms said her own children are opting for virtual learning and that even though as a working parent she would love for them to be out of the house, the science shows it’s not safe yet. “It’s too soon for schools to reopen,” she said. “Parents and teachers and staff need to have an option on whether or not they will engage in virtual learning or send kids back into the classroom. It’s simply too soon.”

Bottoms maintained that a “statewide mask mandate (…) would go a very long way” and said that Kemp’s lawsuit was “very personal” as he sued her individually. Although other Georgia cities, like Savannah and Athens, had issued similar mask ordinances, they were not included in the lawsuit. Bottoms also points out that she was sued after criticizing President Donald Trump for violating the city’s mask ordinance because he didn’t have a mask on at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. “I don’t think it was a coincidence,” she added.

“I don’t know if it was because of the demographics of the city or if it’s because I’m a woman, if it’s because I called out Donald Trump. I have no idea,” Bottoms said. “It could be all of the above or none of the above but it’s just—it was odd.”

Kemp has said that he still supports mask use and Georgia’s Attorney General Chris Carr previously tweeted that the state “continues to urge citizens to wear masks” but that “this lawsuit is about the rule of law.”

Bottoms blamed Trump and Kemp for perpetuating resistance among Americans to precautions like mask wearing and social distancing.

“People look to leaders for examples and when you have the president of the United States saying it’s a hoax, people believe that it’s a hoax,” she said. “When you have governors who won’t make sound decisions based on science, people who believe in their leadership will also not make sound decisions based on science.”

Bottoms said she relies on data, science and experts to guide her COVID decision-making. “I’m not making (decisions related to COVID) based on what I know about medical science or public health—that’s not my area of expertise—but i do have sense enough to listen to the folks who have this area of expertise,” she said.

Write to Sanya Mansoor at sanya.mansoor@time.com.

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