Savannah Mayor Van Johnson sports a mask and washes his hands during a May visit to Hunter Army Airfield. He plans to make masks mandatory in the city of Savannah following an increase in COVID-19 cases.
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Savannah Mayor Van Johnson sports a mask and washes his hands during a May visit to Hunter Army Airfield. He plans to make masks mandatory in the city of Savannah following an increase in COVID-19 cases.

The City of Savannah plans to make masks mandatory amid a rise in coronavirus cases, Mayor Van Johnson said during a special called meeting of the city council Monday.

 

“As these numbers continue to go up, and they are going up all over our community and they’re not slowing down, I just refuse to sit by idle and not be able to try to do something to be able to try to slow the spread,” Johnson said.

 

He expressed frustration with Gov. Brian Kemp’s order prohibiting municipal governments from enacting stricter measures to combat the virus than the state already has in place. 

 

“The rights of municipalities to be able to make those decisions locally were essentially taken away,” he said. “Yet we're still facing the repercussions from what is occurring here.”

 

Johnson said the rising infection numbers are “exigent circumstances” that allow Savannah to act on an “emergency basis.”

 

The city attorney concurred.

 

The Georgia coast has seen fewer coronavirus cases than other, harder-hit areas of the state, but numbers began to tick up recently. 

 

One week ago, the eight-county Coastal Health District had 1,211 confirmed cases of COVID-19. As of 3 p.m. Monday, that number stands at 1,575, an increase of more than 300 cases. The prior week brought just 158 new cases.

 

Most of the coast’s COVID-19 cases are in Chatham County, where Savannah sits. There, officials have confirmed 807 cases and 33 deaths.

 

Details on Savannah’s mask order were not immediately available. Johnson asked the city attorney to “put something together” and said he would keep the city council updated.

 

One of the Savannah area’s main hospital systems, St. Joseph’s/Candler, said Monday that after weeks of low, steady admissions, there has been an increase of COVID-19 positive patients in the last few days. St. Joseph’s Hospital had 17 cases Monday, with another three cases at Candler Hospital.

 

The hospital system said despite the increase the facilities still have plenty of capacity and personal protective equipment.

 

Several Savannah-area restaurants, meanwhile, have closed in recent days because of COVID-19 exposure.

 

Spanky’s Southside and Molly McGuire’s on Wilmington Island both posted messages last week saying employees had tested positive. They said the restaurants would be cleaned and employees would not be able to return until they test negative for COVID-19.

 

Downtown bar The Rail Pub also announced this weekend that it would close for cleaning and get employees tested after customers tested positive. 

 

Another restaurant, The 5 Spot in Habersham Village, has reopened after announcing a closure because an employee was exposed to someone who tested positive.

 

Looking at the numbers, Mayor Johnson put the situation in Savannah succinctly. “It’s not getting any better,” he said.

 

“I just think that we're-we're in some very dangerous times,” Johnson told the council. “And I think ultimately we’re judged on what we do or what we don't do.”