SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah Marathon has been an important event not only for runners but for the economy of the Hostess City.
The event was canceled last year because of concerns about the coronavirus, but organizers came back in 2021. The marathon is set to take place Nov. 6 and 7, bringing 15,000 runners and 7,000 additional visitors to Savannah.
Mayor Van Johnson said he isn’t concerned if the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon can protect its runners, instead, his concern lays with the influx of visitors.
“They’re in our stores and they’re in our businesses and among our folks and they may not be vaccinated and there are no protocols for them,” Johnson said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. “We don’t want these folks to come, have the time of their life and leave us with a COVID uptick.”
Johnson said the city’s medical advisory board will soon make a decision on the fate of the marathon. The mayor added that he has reached out to the local business community and those who are holding the event.
“They said they had a little bit of time, so we’re hoping within the next week we’ll be able to make a decision about what November looks like for us. Stay tuned,” said Johnson.
Infections have been declining since early September, hitting daily case averages last seen in late July — when cases were rapidly rising. On Monday, Chatham County’s seven-day rolling average of new daily cases was 74, according to the Coastal Health District. A month ago, that number was 264.
On Sept. 13, Savannah and Chatham County introduced a vaccine incentive program, offering employees $500 to roll up their sleeves. Johnson said that program incentivized 142 employees to get vaccinated, bringing the total of fully vaccinated employees to 1,346 out of 2,100.
He also encouraged private business owners to implement vaccine incentives, saying the cost of shutting down due to a COVID outbreak could lead to a significant loss in revenue. Johnson floated ideas such as time off and other non-monetary incentives if businesses can’t afford cash incentives.
According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, Chatham County reports 55% of its residents have received one dose and nearly half are fully vaccinated.
“We have to get our numbers up,” Johnson said. “Until we do that, our entire community is at risk.”
The community transmission index — which accounts for cases reported in the past two weeks per 100,000 cases — currently sits at 395. That number remains high but has significantly dropped since a month ago when it was 1,301.
Hospitalizations have also been declining in the past month, reporting 70 on Monday. Last Friday, the county had 81 patients hospitalized across the three county hospitals.
While numbers are decreasing, health experts worry infections will rise as the weather cools and gatherings shift indoors. A similar trend was noticed earlier this year in January when the U.S. reported highs in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Visit Savannah is hopeful the numbers will continue to go in the right direction, saying that up to 16,000 people have already registered for the marathon.
“That’s a lot of hotel and restaurant business and retail spending,” said Joe Marinelli, from Visit Savannah.
Johnson told reporters that from “the beginning of all this we said we would keep the faith and follow the science.”
The mayor said the city will continue to work with local health officials to interpret the numbers.