Savannah Mayor Van Johnson this morning announced an emergency order mandating the wearing of face coverings in public spaces outdoor and indoor in the City of Savannah, effective at 8 a.m. July 1 until further notice.
"Frankly and honestly, I do not believe we have any other choice," he said. "The numbers speak for themselves. This necessitates a substantial paradigm shift and corresponding drastic action to keep Savannah safe."
Punishment for the civil infraction is punishable by a fine up to $500. "The purpose of this order is compliance, not punishment. Before we cite you, we will offer you a face covering," the Mayor said.
Children 10 and under are exempt.
There is a religious exemption, he says. Otherwise, all employees must wear a mask when in contact with the public.
Any person otherwise unable to wear a mask for whatever reason is also exempt. "We'll leave it to you as to how you demonstrate that, either to a law enforcement officer or a judge," he said.
The masks aren't required in a vehicle, or while actively exercising outdoors.
Referring to a new record of COVID-19 infection in Chatham County, he said, "If a higher percentage of people are testing positive that is an indicator that the situation is worsening, regardless of the amount of testing."
"This emergency order will be taken up, approved, or modified at our next regularly scheduled meeting," set for next week.
The order only applies to the City of Savannah, not in any other areas or municipalities in Chatham County outside City limits.
The move comes after several cities in South Carolina and Florida have already mandated mask usage in public.
Jacksonville, Florida, set to be the site of a portion of the Republican National Convention later this summer, is set to be the largest nearby city with a full mask mandate, including indoor gatherings.
An additional seven City employees have been diagnosed with COVID-19, in addition to two already known.
Johnson urged those who want or need a test to get one, but to be prepared to wait.
"Yesterday the testing site at Sally Mood Drive hit capacity in 15 minutes," he said, referring to the Chatham County Health Department where free testing is ongoing.
Here are the key portions of the order:
All persons entering a commercial establishment in the City must wear a face covering or mask while inside the establishment. This does not apply to religious establishments. However, face coverings are highly recommended during religious activity.
All restaurants, retail stores, salons, grocery stores, and pharmacies in the City must require their employees to wear a face covering at all times while having face-to-face interaction with the public.
Any person who is unable to safely wear a face covering due to age, an underlying health condition or is unable to remove the face covering without the assistance of others is exempt from this order.
Face coverings are not required in the following circumstances:
In personal vehicles;
When a person is alone in enclosed spaces or only with other household members;
During outdoor physical activity, provided the active person maintains a minimum of 6 feet from other people with whom they do not cohabitate at all times;
While drinking, eating, or smoking;
When wearing a face covering causes or aggravates a health condition;
When wearing a face covering would prevent the receipt of personal services; and
When a person is 10 years of age or younger.