Savannah mayor, doctor weigh in on growing backlash over masks


SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – As more businesses open and more people resume activities like shopping, eating out and exercising, many are being asked to wear masks in public if social distance can’t be maintained.

Though safety is the main concern there is growing backlash about masks.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, who promotes face coverings in public, says he’s not sure why there is any kind of controversy. “I really don’t know why it’s a big deal,” he said.

This week, the city offered free face coverings to anyone who can’t afford to buy a mask. “It’s important because we recognize that although face coverings do not prevent the transmission of coronavirus we know that a barrier slows it down,” Johnson said.

He told News 3 he supports any business owner who requires a customer to wear a mask and doesn’t view it as an issue of trying to take away someone’s rights.

“It happens all the time with ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service’ and this is the same thing,” said Johnson. “Business owners can say ‘no mask, no service’ and again, they’re just trying to protect their staff and their customers in this extraordinary time in which we live.”

To some, wearing a mask seems to have fallen along political lines, perhaps because President Donald Trump has made it clear he is not a fan of wearing a mask.

On Thursday, the president did wear a mask during a private tour of the Ford Plant in Michigan but spoke to reporters without the mask on.

Johnson isn’t clear why wearing a mask may seem like a partisan issue to some. “Coronavirus does not care who it infects and who it kills. It has killed Democrats, Republicans and Independents,” he said.

Dr. Stephen Thacker, who is an infectious disease physician at Memorial Health talked to News 3 this week about a number of issues regarding COVID 19, including wearing a mask.

“I think of all the sacrifices we can ask someone to make for the community and their loved ones that wearing a mask is probably a small one,” he said.

Thacker says for most in this country, the thought of wearing a mask is certainly not routine behavior as it may be in some other countries. “For those in healthcare, it’s a more approachable subject because we do it much more often,” he said.

The physician says one issue of masks is that you have to make sure you get the right size.

“There are some masks, both fabric and non-fabric that just are the wrong size and they’re going to be uncomfortable and then you won’t want to wear it anymore,” he said, “so find a mask that fits.”

Thacker says a fabric mask is fine, especially for outdoors, but it should cover the nose and mouth. “Start with placing a mask on the nose and pinching around the nose and pull your mask around the ears on the back and when you’re taking it off pull from the back of the head or ears and pull forward,” he explained.

Thacker says if the mask is disposable, throw it away and try to avoid touching the front of it. He says a cloth mask should be washed after each use.

He also told us that while most able-bodied people should be able to wear a mask and get used to wearing it that there are people who should not wear a mask. Thacker says children under the age of 2 should not be masked for fear of suffocation. He also said those with severe asthma or other breathing difficulties should not wear a mask and anyone who is so medically frail that they could not remove their own mask should not wear one either.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has indicated that wearing face coverings may limit the spread of the virus. Johnson told us he has heard of some comments on social media that people who don’t want to wear masks may want to cite HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).

“I’ve seen so many incorrect references to HIPPA which relates to health information and it’s really not applicable to what we’re talking about,” said Johnson. “Again, this is America. People have the right to determine what requirements they have for customers to come into their business and likewise, people have the choice of whether or not to go there.”

Johnson says he will continue to support that people wear masks in public.

“We’re not trying to stop people from living their best lives we just want them to do it in a very safe way and so I’ve been threatened with lawsuits, social liberties, all kinds of things,” said Johnson. “We’re not worried about that, we’re just trying to keep folks safe in our city.”

The mayor continued: “I think sometimes we forget how blessed we are in Savannah.”

“Look at New York or Albany, Georgia,” he said. “Talk to a family of someone who has died because of COVID, talk to somebody who just got off of a respirator because of COVID, and then you may think that a mask a face covering is a very small price to pay to ensure that you’re keeping the people you say you love and your neighbors safe.”

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