SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — The green banner that reads “MASK UP” is displayed once again at Savannah City Hall.
The city reinstated its mask mandate amid a rise in COVID-19 cases and the emerging omicron variant. Mayor Van Johnson made the announcement at his weekly press conference Wednesday.
The mandate is effective immediately with no end date in sight, Johnson said. The mandate applies to city-owned buildings only, but Johnson did encourage businesses to require employees and customers to wear masks.
“Just in the last 10 days, the CDC estimates that the omicron variant is now the predominant strain in the United States, and there’s no reason to expect we will not experience the same thing here in Coastal Georgia,” the mayor said.
This move comes a day after Atlanta reinstated its mask mandate for all persons in a public place to wear a mask or cloth face covering when indoors. This order includes private businesses and establishments.
“So we’ve been fortunate to have escaped the huge surge so far, and now is the time for us to do all we can do to mitigate the oncoming wave,” Johnson said. “We know it’s coming, so we need to prepare proactively for that to happen.”
Chatham County reported 63 new cases Wednesday, raising the daily case average to 36, according to the Coastal Health District. The community transmission index — which totals the number of new infections per 100,000 cases in the past 14 days — ballooned to 136. The last time it exceeded that was on Oct. 22.
The percent positive of tests was 4.4% — indicating a low level. And while hospitalizations are rising rapidly across the Peach State, Chatham County is not mirroring that. On Wednesday, 20 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 across the area’s three hospitals.
Johnson urged anyone who is unvaccinated to get the jab immediately and encouraged those who are eligible for booster shots.
“Prior infection recovery is very poor protection versus omicron,” Johnson said.
Currently, 58% of Chatham County residents are partially vaccinated, with 53% fully vaccinated, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health’s vaccine dashboard. The CDC ranked the Peach State’s vaccine distribution 45th in the country.
Johnson says all future events — such as the city’s New Year’s Eve fireworks — remain on, but if infections, hospitalizations and community spread continue to rapidly rise, those events could be canceled and capacity limits might be enforced.
“We control this, so we can have a little inconvenience now, and be better later, or we can do like we want to do and we suffer the consequences, our entire community suffers,” Johnson said. “Hence, why it’s so important for our business community to go ahead, and let’s get with the program, let’s work together, let’s require these masks to help people to be safe.”
The city of Savannah has rotated between a mask mandate and an advisory since the start of the pandemic.
As recently as mid-November, the city downgraded to an advisory. The city’s mask advisory — first put in place in early June — simply encouraged residents to wear masks while indoors.
“This is a period in which our community can decide very clearly where do we want to go,” Johnson said. “We can go to the path of liberation, we can go to the path of restriction. And then that’s totally up to us.”