SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Mayor Van Johnson held a press conference Tuesday morning to provide an update on the coronavirus outbreak in Savannah.
Johnson started the press conference by providing an update on the number of cases in our area. As of noon on Tuesday, there are 117 confirmed COVID-19 cases and four deaths in Chatham County.
The mayor then stated that the City of Savannah is complying with Governor Brian Kemp’s recently issued executive shelter-in-place order, which supersedes all local orders, including the one previously issued for the City of Savannah by Johnson.
“To be clear, there is only one order in place at this time, and that is Governor Kemp’s order,” Johnson said. “And we will abide by his legal order.”
Johnson said that he has extended Savannah’s shelter-in-place order until midnight on May 1, in the event that Kemp’s order expires on April 13 as planned.
The mayor then discussed residential sanitation services that are now limited to only garbage collection. Yard waste, recycling and bulk item pickup are suspended until further notice.
Citizens can still drop off the above items at Dean Forest Landfill or at the Bacon Park Transfer Station.
Johnson also addressed some confusion with the recent decision to allow one hour of free street parking in Savannah.
“We messed that one up,” Johnson said. “We did not communicate that one well.”
The mayor and City Manager Pat Monahan did not specifically say what went wrong with parking services this week but said that all citations issued on Monday and Tuesday will be forgiven.
Moving forward, the first hour of street parking in Savannah is free, and Johnson said drivers will still need to use the parking meters or the Park Savannah app.
Monahan said the city’s parking fund is one of the most fragile funds right now and explained that completely free street parking will lead to citizens no longer using the parking garages. Johnson said more direction on parking services amid the coronavirus outbreak will be coming within the next few days.
Since Savannah began its response to the pandemic economic losses have topped close 4.5 million dollars a month.
Monahan said the city’s general fund is impacted the most due to the loss of sales tax and hotel/motel taxes. By cutting travel and terminating maintenance contracts he says the city is saving money, any gaps will be filled by dipping into the sales tax stabilization fund.
“The city, I think, can weather this storm as long as there are no extraordinary expenses out there that we are not anticipating or that this prolongs beyond through the end of May,” said Monahan. “If it prolongs through the end of May I think that city is going to have to look at some additional cost-saving measures.”
Johnson also said that he has been receiving multiple inquiries and concerns about Gulfstream operations right now and said he has reached out to the company.
“We want to make sure that we are able to support them, and make sure that they are doing all they can to support our citizens that work there,” Johnson said.
The mayor once again encouraged Savannahians to stay home if possible and wear a face mask when out in public, per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). City workers will be doing just that.
Johnson said this weekend, he saw better social distancing practices than the weekend before, but said he still sees people not complying. He also said he can’t restrict anyone beyond the governor’s order, but warns it wouldn’t take much for the virus to devastate a city like Savannah.
“We can handle this within our medical facilities as long as people follow the science, as long as they do what our health professionals tell them to do,” said Johnson, “as long as they stay home, as long as they social distance and as long as they cover-up.”
The mayor also reminded citizens to complete their 2020 census, saying that less than 40% of the City’s residents have been counted so far.
“It is important that Savannah is counted, and counted accurately,” Johnson said.
When asked about the financial state Savannah is in, Monahan said the City of Savannah is in a strong position overall, thanks to planning done by the city’s budget and financial offices before the pandemic. He said the city is “desperately trying to avoid” furloughs right now.
In addition to asking citizens to follow CDC guidelines and government orders, Johnson also asked Savannahians to do something kind for another person this week.
“I don’t have to tell Savannahians about how to be nice,” Johnson said. “Use this as a time to be a blessing to someone else this week.”
Johnson suggested calling a friend or family member or offering to pick-up something at the grocery store for an at-risk neighbor.
Watch more from Tuesday’s media briefing below.