Mask mandate reinstated in Savannah as COVID-19 cases rise again

Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 9:13 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 26, 2021 at 5:22 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - At a news conference on Monday, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson announced that he is reinstating a mask mandate in the city.

The mandate is effective immediately, according to the mayor. The mayor said he’s being advised there are likely several factors behind the rising numbers of COVID cases: the prevalence of the Delta variant, a low vaccination rate locally, large gatherings and people letting their guard down.

The mayor said based on Center for Disease Control and Prevention indicators and threshold, the community transmission in Savannah and the Chatham County area is considered high. As of last Friday, the Community Transmission Index in Chatham County was 230. *Graphs from the Coastal Health District are at the bottom of this article.

Savannah’s mandate requires everyone, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status, to wear a mask indoors when not with your immediate family. The mask mandate is in effect in city government facilities, early childhood facilities, hospitals, and transportation – including guided tours.

“I’m asking people, don’t complain, get vaccinated. Don’t complain, wear a mask. And the science has been when the numbers indicate that it’s safe to remove the mandate, then we’ll remove the mandate,” said Mayor Johnson.

Several of those doctors spoke at Monday’s news conference, backing up the importance of re-instating a proven way to slow the spread of COVID.

“It’s not just in an eating environment or restaurant environment where we’re seeing spread. There are gatherings amongst folks where there’s unknown vaccination status of others, and then there’s a growing concern around the effectiveness of vaccines moving forward. So how do you manage through that while we try to get to the answer of, indeed, how protective are our current vaccine? You protect people. You use what you know works,” said Dr. Stephen Thacker with Memorial Health.

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Mayor Johnson said he will be asking businesses to follow the mandate and encouraging religious institutions to recommend masks.

“We’re asking for our local business community, we’re asking for our faith community, again, to do the things that got us to the point of where we were. Savannah was able to open faster and at a better rate than most of our neighbors because we had taken the necessary steps up front,” Mayor Johnson said.

LINK >>> COVID-19 Vaccine Locater

He also said he is asking the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) and private schools to consider requiring masks for the upcoming school year.

While the city of savannah has no jurisdiction over local schools. Mayor Johnson says they have a great partnership and are asking them to consider requiring masks within the city of Savannah.

At this time the Savannah-Chatham school district says masks will remain optional when they return in about a week. The mayor, however, says we are in the red zone and have to do something.

He feels kids back in school presents more opportunities for infection and replication of the virus. He says the district has been really good partners in following the science.

Savannah-Chatham has not made a full return to in-person learning since the beginning of the pandemic. They say they remain committed to health and safety for all.

The following statement was provided by SCCPSS:

“As the transmission of the COVID-19 virus spikes in our region again, it will be imperative that families avail themselves of every resource to stay safe. SCCPSS is committed to providing a multi-layered mitigation strategy for the reduction of transmission of the virus. At the current time, we plan to return to school with masks optional. Our schools cover a 426 square mile area over the entire county; to revise our standards for some schools and not for others would not be equitable. Masks ARE required on school buses and we encourage anyone who is unvaccinated, who has compromised immune system, or who lives with someone who is unvaccinated, to wear a mask if they desire.

SCCPSS remains committed to the health and safety of our staff and students. We continue to monitor the community transmission index, seek guidance from community health professionals, and consider other data pertinent to the spread of the virus. If conditions change, we may revise our position on mask wearing; however, at this time, masks remain optional for the return to school. If there are changes to the requirements, parents will be notified through our parent notification system, as well as through normal media channels, including our website and social media.”

But the mayor hopes they will think it through.

“It doesn’t help us to have the majority of our schools in the City of Savannah and those young people and those teachers are not masked. Again I was at the mall with a lot of these young people and there were kids everywhere, I mean everywhere and they want a hug and they want, you know I air hugged a whole bunch of them, but the reality is, is that we are approaching a situation where these schools can become hotbeds for infection and so I hope they will consider. I mean obviously if they choose not to that’s totally up to them, but you know here in savannah we’ve been very aggressive, very proactive to try and take measure to stem the tide and I am hoping that our board of education will partner with us on that,” said Mayor Johnson.

Again, the city does not have any jurisdiction over the Savannah-Chatham District. They say masks will be required while on the bus and they are watching data closely and if something changes, parents will be notified.

We are set to talk with school leaders about their back to school plan on Tuesday and will pass along the details of how they will operate and any changes that come up.

This mandate expires on Aug. 26 at midnight unless extended.

Chatham County Commission Chairman Chester Ellis says he’s meeting with staff Tuesday to look at the possibility of re-implementing their own mask requirements for the county.

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