SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – While COVID-19 cases are trending downward in Chatham County, Mayor Van Johnson says he wants to see vaccination rates go up — especially among city employees.
The mayor said he’s cautiously optimistic because of lagging vaccination rates and the possibility of a winter spike in infections.
“As we’ve learned last year, I mean, we can go down and then right jump back up,” Johnson said during his weekly press conference Tuesday.
More than 58% of the U.S. population is vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. In comparison, Chatham County’s fully vaccinated population sits at 51%, with 56% receiving at least one dose, according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Johnson’s updated goal is to get more than 70 or 80% of Savannahians vaccinated.
“The goal is to really decisively vaccinate,” Johnson said, adding that 66% of city employees are fully vaccinated.
City employees are offered eight hours of vacation time and $500 to incentivize them to get inoculated against COVID-19.
That incentive program ends Nov. 15, and Johnson said “everything is on the table,” including vaccine mandates and raising insurance costs for city employees who remain unvaccinated beyond that date.
Johnson announced a second city employee died of complications due to COVID-19.
“We want people to be vaccinated because we want them to be OK,” the mayor said. “We don’t want to bury any more city employees.”
Johnson compared higher insurance premium costs for smokers to those who are eligible for vaccination, yet refrain from doing so. He said he thinks the city’s incentives are enough, and the city manager will provide further options to address employees refusing to get vaccinated.
“If it’s going to cost the city more because of your decision, then I think we have to appropriately adjust that,” Johnson said. However, the city said it raising insurance costs most likely wouldn’t occur anytime soon.
Johnson said he won’t be satisfied until every city employee is fully vaccinated against COVID.
“Team Savannah is a front-facing organization, we’re in the community, we’re in the public,” the mayor added. “I think it’s just a matter of public health and personal safety that we want our police officers, our firefighters, we want our parking services personnel, we want people working in the offices, you know, we want people to be vaccinated.”
The mayor said unvaccinated city workers could cost Savannah.
“There is a significant cost associated with people who chose not to be vaccinated and if they require hospitalizations,” Johnson said. “It clearly costs us more to insure them, their bills are higher … so that is something that — a burden — that we would have to pick up as well.”