SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Mayor Van Johnson has ditched Savannah’s mask mandate and implemented an advisory in its place.
After 11 months of mask-wearing, those who are fully vaccinated can now go without a face covering in the Hostess City.
“Masks are strongly encouraged and are advised; it’s not mandated,” Johnson said Tuesday.
There is no fine for not wearing a mask. But the advisory requires masks to be worn in crowded indoor spaces and by those with compromised immune systems and children under the age of 12.
The mayor says masks will still be required in city buildings, and businesses are asked to continue requiring customers to wear masks indoors.
Johnson is following a recent trend of lifting mask mandates as more and more Americans receive COVID-19 vaccines.
As of Tuesday, more than 195,000 doses of vaccines have been administered in Chatham County, with 32% of residents fully vaccinated and 37% receiving at least one dose. Both numbers lag behind the national average.
“The decision to do this follows the science,” Johnson said. With Chatham County’s community transmission index plateauing at moderately high, and hospitalizations plummeting, Johnson said the change had merit.
“So we’re two full weeks under 100, and we haven’t gone back over,” said Coastal Health District Director Dr. Lawton Davis of the transmission index. “However, we have not just continued a steady decline.”
Davis said downgrading to a mask advisory is a smart move, so even those vaccinated understand this pandemic is not yet behind us.
“If nothing else, this whole thing should have taught us that masks, social distancing and frequent handwashing work. You know, the hospitals here have seen almost zero influenza this year,” he added.
Johnson said he’s still concerned that lifting the mask mandate could increase community spread.
Though the “Mask Up” sign has been removed from City Hall, it’s not been trashed just yet. The mayor said if the COVID-19 situation turns sour, he’ll reinstitute the mandate.
“You will see me wearing a mask, particularly when I’m in the company of people that frankly, I can not determine whether they are vaccinated and as a reminder to our citizens that COVID still poses a significant health risk to our community,” Johnson said. “We must continue to take it seriously.”
Meanwhile, tourism officials say Tuesday’s announcement is welcome news.
“With this news, coupled with the change in the CDC guidance a few weeks ago, our days are getting better and better, and we’re really appreciative of that,” said Tourism Leadership Council President and CEO Mike Owens.
Johnson said the city will begin issuing special use permits for events up to 250 people.
To find local COVID-19 vaccine sites and information, click here.