‘It’s enforcement time’: Savannah Mayor holds first briefing since Gov. Kemp allows local mask mandates

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Savannah Mayor Van Johnson addressed the community on the city’s latest measures and updates regarding COVID-19 during a press conference Tuesday morning.

Johnson started the briefing by recognizing the recent passing of Chatham County Commissioner James Holmes. Holmes battled COVID-19 for weeks in the hospital and died Monday morning.

“This one is personal to me and this one hurts,” said Johnson of Holmes, who he considers a “friend, brother, mentor, and confidant.” He says his death should remind everyone of what the pandemic can do.

“This man died alone,” said Johnson. “Nobody to hold his hand. He died nobody to tell him that everything is going to be alright. That’s when it becomes very very real.”

Johnson asked the community to pray for Holmes’ wife and family.

Tuesday’s press conference was the mayor’s first since Governor Brian Kemp signed an executive order over the weekend that allows local municipalities to enact their own mask mandates.

Gov. Kemp’s full executive order here.

“I am grateful for Governor Kemp’s newfound support for cities and counties that are requiring face coverings,” said Johnson of the move. “Governor Kemp’s order on Saturday has confirmed what Savannah has known since July the 1st… that we have the ability, we have the responsibility and we have the authority to enact face mandates to protect our citizens.”

Signaling now is ‘enforcement time,’ the mayor took the opportunity to remind the public that Savannah Police Department can, but does not want to, issue citations to people who do not obey the mask mandate.

He says enforcement of the mask mandate starts when police ask someone to wear a mask and/or hands them one. He insists that the public look at those statistics, rather than how many citations have been issued.

As of 8/10/20, Savannah Police Department says officers at all four precincts have handed out 12,500 masks since the pandemic began.

Governor Kemp’s executive order does not allow the mayor to enforce or require masks in private businesses. However, he says he will not support businesses that do not take the initiative on their own.

“I am not supporting any business that does not care enough about its employees, doesn’t care enough about his customers to mandate masking,” he said.

Johnson also announced the city will not issue permits to hold activities in city facilities until Oct. 31. In October, staff will reevaluate the state of the pandemic in Savannah and make a decision on whether to issue permits again in the following months.

“We’re doing it based on what the science is. If we get to October and our numbers are better, then let’s look at November and December,” said Mayor Johnson.

He also thanked the state of New York and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for their partnership with the City of Savannah.

The mayor says that partnership led to the donation of 2,500 testing kits to both the Curtis T. Cooper Healthcare Center and the J. C. Lewis Healthcare Center.

Watch the complete press conference in the video above.

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