Mayor Van Johnson to consider mandate requiring face coverings in public

City of Savannah
City of Savannah(WTOC)
Updated: Jun. 22, 2020 at 5:34 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Mayor Van Johnson announced Monday in a Zoom meeting with City Council and members of the Coastal Health District that he would meet with the City Attorney in consideration of mandate requiring people to wear face masks in public.

Last month, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said if COVID-19 cases didn’t start to trend downward that he would consider finding a path to make face coverings in public mandatory. At Monday’s emergency meeting Mayor Johnson said he believes it’s hit that point locally.

So this week, he along with the city attorney, Savannah police chief and leaders with the Coastal Health District will be working on the language of an ordinance that would require masks if passed. Here’s a portion of what the Mayor had to say about requiring face coverings in public at the emergency virtual meeting.

“In this case, again as these numbers continue to go up and they’re going up all over our community and they’re not slowing down, I just refuse to sit by idle and not be able to try to do something to slow the spread,” said Mayor Johnson.

Mayor Johnson says it’s not about taking away people’s freedom, and that it’s not a decision he takes lightly.

Currently Governor Brian Kemp’s executive order doesn’t allow Georgia cities to pass any more restrictive measures than what’s at the state level, and we asked Mayor Johnson if he anticipates any objection from the capital.

“I hope not. I think that the numbers are clear. I think we could make a convincing case that this is in response to an increasingly dangerous situation in our city, and that we have to do what’s necessary to keep people safe.”

Whether or not we see that go before Council at this weeks meeting or the next, we’ll have to see. Also, this would only be for people inside the city limits of Savannah.

“It would be great if the community could rally around this guidance and not need to have a mandate from the city because it’s based on good science and it has a good effect in the more and more we work through COVID-19 in other cities and states and nations, the more we understand how important masking can be,” said Dr. Stephen Thacker, Associate Chief Medical Officer at Memorial Health.

Dr. Thacker says if 80 percent of our community wore masks, it would reduce the spread significantly.

“Based on what we know right now about how this virus spreads, which appears to be really through respiratory droplets is the main way in which this is spread, that you would reduce the spread within a community significantly perhaps 90 percent more.”

But he also says it’s important masks are worn correctly.

“You should have ties or loops that go behind the head to secure it. It should be across the bridge of the nose and depressed so it’s secure and you want it to be not constricting but you want it snug on both the lower part of your face as well across the nose and you want to avoid touching it directly with your hands.”

Dr. Thacker says wearing a mask protects those around you, and them doing the same protects you too.

As of Monday afternoon, there have been more than 800 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Chatham County since the testing started earlier this year.

The Coastal Health District is reminding people across our region that the virus is still present and it’s not going away anytime soon.

The Coastal Health District will continue offering free COVID-19 testing in Savannah this week. There’s no need to make an appointment. The health district says anyone can be tested for free. Testing will be offered at the Sallie Mood Drive location (7221 Sallie Mood Drive, near the Jennifer Ross Soccer Complex) every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. There are also some pop-up testing events scheduled for this week, including Tuesday at Garrison K-8 School.

For more Coastal Health District free COVID-19 testing information, click here.

The Georgia Department of Public Health gives its Daily COVID-19 Status Report every day at 3 p.m. Click here for the latest report.

Council members were particularly interested in seeing the case count by zip code.

Some areas of the state have made COVID-19 case breakdown by zip code, but we haven’t done that locally, until now.

Either Tuesday or Wednesday, Coastal Health District Director Dr. Lawton Davis says he’ll have the latest breakdown of coronavirus cases by zip code in Chatham County, and they’ll be making that information public on the Coastal Health District website.

Council wants the data to help them get an idea of where hotspots pop up in their districts. There are a few caveats to that data Dr. Davis shared with Council, one being any zip code that has five or less cases will show up as a zero or asterisk due to HIPPA laws.

“Just remember when you look at them, that is just the residence, and may have no bearing on where they contracted the virus. If they’re traveling or working, they can cross one street and be in a different zip code. So just remember, that’s where they live not necessarily where they got it,” said Dr. Davis.

The demand for COVID-19 tests in the health district is so high they could run out of specimen collection kits this week, according to Dr. Davis. He added the District is also expecting a shipment of about 100,000 masks from the state sometime this week.

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