Mayor Johnson says citywide mask mandate possible but future events remain on

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — As COVID-19 cases spike across Chatham County, Mayor Van Johnson once again reiterated that “everything is on the table” to fight back against the deadly disease. While all future events are still a go, Johnson says Savannah’s health advisory will convene to discuss possible restrictions and cancellations in the coming days and weeks.

“I think we’ve been very, very clear that our decisions are not social, they’re not political, they’re based on science,” Johnson said. He went on to say if Chatham County continues to explode with new COVID-19 infections, then event cancellations, capacity limits and further restrictions could be implemented.

“A citywide mask mandate, whatever the cost, is also on the table,” Johnson said.

The first mask mandate was implemented in the Hostess City in June 2020 and was renewed several times. However, recently, the city has flipped between a mask mandate for city-owned buildings when infections began to rise and then downgraded to an advisory as infections began to slow.

The city of Savannah recently enacted a mask mandate on Dec. 22.

Johnson also said the vaccination rate in the county could help keep events on track and could prevent the cancellation of events. The next large event on the calendar is the Martin Luther King Jr. parade followed by St. Patrick’s Day.

“At this very moment, being the first business day of the new year, everything that is scheduled is a go. We’ll continue to evaluate our situation and we’ll make some determinations over the next few days as the information and the science warrants,” said Mayor Johnson. “The question is, how does the surge translate into hospitalizations, and how do the hospitalizations translate to what it is we do to be able to slow it down.”

The mayor also announced the testing site will return to the Savannah Civic Center but did not disclose a timeline.

The latest data from the Coastal Health District shows that Chatham County reported 317 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 Tuesday. That rapid jump in cases brings the 7-day rolling average number of cases to 377 — the highest number since the beginning of the pandemic.

Johnson said he and the city’s health experts expected surges in cases during the holidays.

“We expect another surge,” the mayor said. “The question is how does the surge translate into hospitalizations? How do the hospitalizations translate into what it is we do, to slow it down?”

Despite the rapid rise in infections, Johnson says he does not regret canceling events prior to the holidays, claiming if he had done that it would’ve forced more indoor gatherings. Health experts have long said the virus spreads more easily indoors and in poorly ventilated areas.

The community transmission index — which totals newly confirmed cases in the past two weeks per 100,000 residents — has also skyrocketed to 1097. The last time the transmission rate exceeded a number higher dates back to Sept. 8.

Hospitalizations have also begun to rise, reporting 65 total COVID patients across the area’s three hospitals. In comparison, the last time hospitals reported more patients was on Oct. 1.

While Johnson wouldn’t detail a threshold for hospitalizations, he did say the city is working closely with local hospitals to gauge their capacities and prevent them from being overrun.

“Obviously, we don’t want them to be swamped… we want to make sure that their hospital rooms are manageable and so at the point that they’re not, they’ll let us know that,” Johnson said.

This story was updated with the latest COVID-19 statistics in Chatham County.

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