Savannah reinstates mask mandate as COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations rise


SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — The city of Savannah has reinstated its mask mandate amid rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Chatham County and across the U.S. The order is effective immediately.

“This is not a political issue, this is purely public safety and public health,” Mayor Van Johnson said. The city’s new goal is to fully vaccinate 52% of Savannahians, he added.

The order states that masks are required in city-owned buildings, such as early childhood, elementary, secondary institutions, hospitals or while on public transportation.

Customers are “strongly advised” to wear face coverings inside establishments inside the city, but the order excludes churches. The order states that owners of restaurants, salons, retail stores, grocery stores and pharmacies are “strongly encouraged” to require employees to wear face coverings.

Those on guided tours must wear masks and those who refuse face up to a $50 fine, according to the order.

“I would not have made this decision without the advice and recommendation of those that are behind me. They didn’t learn about it online, they didn’t look up theories and things, they went to school,” Johnson said, surrounded by local health experts. “This is what they do, professionally.”

Johnson announced the decision at his weekly press conference on Monday. This comes nearly two months after the city shifted its mask mandate to an advisory on June 1, effectively making face masks optional. It also lifted other restrictions in the following weeks.

The city’s order exempts mask-wearing in the following situations:

  • When drinking, eating or smoking.
  • When alone inside an enclosed space or with family members only.
  • When exercising at least six feet away from others.
  • When wearing a mask causes or aggravates a health condition.
  • When wearing a mask would prevent the receipt of a personal service.
  • Those 10-years-old or younger.
Image provided by the Coastal Health District.

The county is seeing infections and hospitalizations rise, comparable to what was seen in early March. At that time, numbers were sharply declining after reaching highs in January and February.

Dr. Stephen Thacker, associate chief medical officer at Memorial Health, said he saw 36 COVID-related patients Monday morning. Thacker said that’s an increase, compared to a few months ago when he was seeing one to three each day. The average age of patients is 50, which Thacker said shows the patients are less vaccinated.

Thacker said getting vaccinated, wearing masks, social distancing and hand hygiene can help fight the increase in community spread.

“I’m hopeful with the community paying attention to this… we won’t reach the levels of, number of infections that we had during the peaks of this pandemic.”

Since July 1, Chatham County has been reporting an increase in COVID-19 cases. The seven-day rolling average of cases has risen to 62. The community transmission index has also sharply increased to 230, which reports new cases from the past two weeks per 100,000 residents.

Image provided by the Coastal Health District.

Johnson said he’s willing to go door-to-door with Dr. Lawton Davis, director of the eight-county Coastal Health District, and nurses to vaccinate residents inside their homes.

“If that’s what it takes, then let’s do it. I’m willing to knock on doors every single day,” Johnson said. “To talk to people every day about the need for people to be vaccinated.”

The percent positive of tests has fluctuated between low and moderate. Chatham County isn’t alone in its uptick in COVID-19 infections, the remaining seven counties in the Coastal Health District are also seeing upticks.

It’s also not alone in reinstating mask mandates. Savannah’s order follows Hinesville and Liberty County’s decisions to bring back mask requirements.

“It’s frustrating, it’s saddening and it makes me mad,” Johnson said of the current COVID-19 situation. The mayor said he was getting flashbacks to the beginning of the pandemic, where hospitals were overrun with coronavirus-related patients.

“Because it wasn’t that long ago when we were so separated that we didn’t see our families and friends. When we were going to funerals of those that we loved, where I would go to our local hospitals and look into the eyes of our health care workers, many who had not had a break in weeks,”

The counties are experiencing different levels of infection, and Camden County’s community transmission is four times as high as Chatham’s, according to the Coastal Health District. The latest data reports a high of 809.

For local vaccine information, click or tap here.

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