Coronavirus, Final Four create challenge for Atlanta police

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ATLANTA — The coronavirus is of particular concern at large events like the Final Four, which is expected to draw a record-breaking 80,000 people to Mercedes-Benz Stadium next month.

Public safety preparation for the basketball tournament will be just as intense as the Super Bowl, Atlanta police Chief Erika Shields told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The key differences in public safety planning are the deadly virus that’s led to six deaths nationally, and the length of the tournament — which features events spread across four days, April 3-6.

Coronavirus is also known as COVID-19, a cluster of pneumonia-like cases linked to a live animal and seafood market in Wuhan, located in China’s Hubei province.

Late Monday night, Gov. Brian Kemp announced two people who live in the same household in Fulton County are the first in Georgia to test positive for the virus.

Atlanta police are encouraging its staff to take precautions that will keep them healthy amid the outbreak. “We are encouraging hand sanitizing, hand washing, and other preventative measures, not coming to work sick, etc.,” Atlanta police spokesman Carlos Campos said.

NCAA spokesman Greg Johnson said the NCAA Sport Science Institute sent memos directing schools and conference offices to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for resources on the issue.

“Otherwise, NCAA staff continues to prepare for all NCAA winter and spring championships, but we are keenly aware of coronavirus and will continue to monitor in coordination with state/local health authorities and the CDC,” Johnson said in a statement.

Security planning began more than a year ago with a series of trips to the 2019 Final Four site in Minneapolis, where Atlanta public safety officials observed the city’s security operations.

“Those visits are valuable because it allows you to see what works and what doesn’t — and where there is room for improvement,” Campos said. “But each city is unique; there is no cookie-cutter approach to security.”

Exact security plans, including the number of officers hired to work the event, have not been divulged. About 30 local, federal and state law enforcement agencies are involved.

Atlanta officers will also work 12-hour shifts, beginning Thursday before the tournament and ending Tuesday after the championship game, Campos said.

All told, the department expects to spend $3.1 million on public safety for the Final Four, including $2.1 million on overtime costs.