SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Chatham County health officials are expressing concern about the mask-optional policy on public transportation.

With cases rising 40% nationwide in the last week, Dr. Lawton Davis, director of the Coastal Health District, said the virus is not blowing over any time soon. He said the changed policy is coming at the wrong time and is urging people to stay vigilant.

“You have a lot of people in a small, confined space close together,” Davis said. “We’re sort of saying ok, now the onus is entirely on you to protect yourself. Nobody else is going to lend you a helping hand here.”

If you’re immunocompromised or traveling to see someone who is, Davis recommends you continue to wear a mask on public transportation.

Over the last two weeks, about 12 new cases are being reported every day in Chatham County. While that’s significantly down from what we were seeing a few months ago, Dr. Davis said the virus mutates quickly and could rise again soon.

The changed guidance comes as a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the virus’ effect on children.

Unvaccinated kids ages 5 to 11 were twice as likely to be hospitalized during the first wave of the omicron variant, according to the study. Out of those kids hospitalized, three in 10 had underlying conditions. In Chatham County, 19% of kids ages 5 to 9 have received one dose of the vaccine, while 42% of kids 10-14 have.

Davis encourages parents to get their kids vaccinated and have them wear masks when in public settings.

“All of us need to remain very much aware that there’s probably more of it out there than is being reported,” Davis said. “Most people if they get tested they’re doing a home test, which is never reported. So the data on new cases is not nearly as good as it used to be.”

As cases start to climb in other states, Davis said it’s likely just a matter of time before we start to see the same — adding to his concern about ditching the CDC’s mask mandate.

“I think that was the sort of the game plan of the CDC when they expanded the mask mandate by two weeks was to get two weeks of good data,” Davis said. “We may have handcuffed the very agency that was created to protect us if we have another pandemic or another medical, healthcare emergency. Or even just another tremendous surge of omicron, which a lot of people think we still may have at this point.”

On Wednesday, the Department of Justice said it will file an appeal to the ruling that overturned the federal mask mandate after the CDC deemed it necessary.