SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Mayor Van Johnson implored Savannahians and Georgians alike to mask up and get vaccinated as the Peach State reported 19,000 COVID cases over the weekend.

“This mask does not restrict freedom, in my opinion, this mask gives freedom,” Johnson said while holding his mask, which has become a part of his everyday wardrobe over the past year. “It gives us the freedom to enjoy our city, to enjoy events and activities in our city.”

Johnson also took aim at Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who held a press conference Monday announcing the dispatch of additional National Guard troops to aid hospitals. Kemp has been a proponent of vaccines, touting their safeness and effectiveness at keeping people out of the hospital.

However, Kemp has fallen short of supporting mask mandates, and that has caused a rift between the two.

“You mean to tell me that we will send in more National Guard to help people after they’ve been infected than to put a mask mandate in place to stop people from being infected in the first place,” Johnson said.

Image provided by the Coastal Health District.

According to the Coastal Health District, Chatham County is reporting 261 daily cases, 297 hospitalizations and a high community transmission index of 1333.

Last week, Johnson canceled all public events and revoked new permits for events until Sept. 30. He also closed community centers and most city buildings including Savannah City Hall, until further notice. The permit ban excludes weddings, but he said he’s asked wedding planners to adhere to strict social distancing and mask mandates.

Johnson said Savannahians have a choice to follow COVID safety protocols such as getting vaccinated, wearing masks and socially distancing, or face future shutdowns. He said he’ll meet with his public health advisors in mid-September as a COVID status check to determine if further restrictions are warranted.

“If we have a significant bump [in COVID cases] in September, then we start canceling stuff for October and November,” Johnson said.

He went on to say that Georgia is “in a race to the bottom.” Johnson has been calling on more proactive measures from Kemp, such as a statewide mask mandate.

“We need a statewide mask mandate,” Johnson said. “It is clear, this is not political this is public health. It just makes sense.”

Johnson also urged Savannahians to get a plan together in case the Hostess City sees a devastating hurricane. He suggested digitizing documents, having a travel bag ready to go and deciding on a hotel or home to evacuate to.

He also pointed to the potential for the stress it could put on Chatham County area hospitals which are already burdened with COVID patients.

The full press conference in the video player below.