SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – After a busy weekend in Savannah, Mayor Van Johnson held his weekly press conference Tuesday morning to discuss City’s COVID-19 response.
Johnson opened the press conference making it clear that he remains concerned about large crowds on Savannah’s streets and people not practicing social distancing.
The mayor said he thinks through the City Attorney’s office, he has found a legal way to require face masks in public within the city limits of Savannah. He said for now, he is considering his options and said he reserves the right to require face masks in public if necessary.
“Through the city attorney’s office we believe we’ve found a legal path forward,” said Johnson.
Johnson also said that the City is giving away over 4,500 cloth face coverings for free to any Savannah citizen who needs one. The masks can be picked up at City Hall during regular hours or this Thursday and Friday at Savannah Fire Stations 4, 9, 11 and 13 from 9 to 11 a.m. and from 1 to 3 p.m.
Johnson gave more details on the City’s reopening plan. The Savannah Safer Plan, which is part of the Resilient Savannah initiative, will reopen the City of Savannah in five phases based on science, the mayor said.
Phase 1 will focus on reopening high-priority service, including recycling and yard waste services. Johnson said the City will enter Phase 1 when COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are stable or declining for 14 days. The City will move on to the next phase after a minimum of 14 days.
Phase 5, the final phase, will include the reopening of City Hall to the public without restrictions.
A full break down of the reopening plan will be on the City’s website soon, Johnson said.
Johnson added that yard waste pickup is currently complete. Anyone who believes they were missed is asked to call 311.
The mayor also said there are new outdoor dining guidelines available for businesses wanting to expand outdoor seating. Interested businesses must apply through the City’s website.
The city has already granted permits to some businesses, which resulted in the closing of West Julian St. This will allow restaurant groups like Ele and Chef to serve more customers outside. The group owns nine restaurants in town including Little Duck Diner, which is on Julian Street.”
“Right now, we are trying it out to see how it feels,” said Kitto Voneprachane, Operations Manager.
Voneprachane said the city’s expedited permit process and fee waivers are a game changer for the industry.
“Us local businesses, we need the income to survive,” he said. “Moving forward with this, as long as we are all going to same direction, I feel like it will be great for all of us.”
Johnson said he was happy to announce that over 500 local businesses have committed to following CDC and FDA guidelines for opening their doors again.
Johnson also said this past weekend, he saw some bars open that should not be open until the end of the month under Governor Brian Kemp’s executive order.
“If you are a bar, you cannot suddenly decide to serve food to get around the rules,” Johnson said.
The mayor said that three bars were warned, and one was cited.
Johnson announced the cancellation of the City’s Summer 500 Youth Employment Program this year.
“We must focus, we must allow businesses to focus, on providing long-term employment for our citizens during this historic unemployment crisis,” Johnson said.
The mayor also announced the cancellation of the Fourth of July fireworks show on the Savannah River, citing concerns over large crowds on River Street.
“It is simply not worth it,” Johnson said.
He said the City is currently working on an alternate Fourth of July celebration.
At the press conference, the mayor once again urged people to get tested for COVID-19 if they feel they need to. He also encouraged people to fill out the 2020 census and reminded Savannahians about early voting.
Watch the full briefing: