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Savannah becomes first major city in Georgia to reinstate masks

The city of Savannah, Ga., is reimposing a mask mandate to slow the spread of the coronavirus, making it the first major city in Georgia to reinstate the requirement.  

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said at a press conference Monday that he reinstated the mask mandate to halt the spread of the delta variant and to combat a rise in coronavirus cases in the local area, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Johnson reportedly said he did not want to "take a backward step" in the process of leaving the pandemic but was concerned by data showing that coronavirus cases tripled in the neighboring Chatham County in a two-week period.  

"Many people have just let their guard down," he said at the press conference.

Johnson also attributed the new mandate to a low vaccination rate in the area. According to health officials, 42 percent of Chatham County residents have been vaccinated as of Monday, the Journal-Constitution reported.

"As long as our vaccination rates stay low and our community transmission rates stay high, I plan on continuing to wear my mask," Johnson said.

Johnson's decision contrasts with a recent statement from Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who said he had no intention of imposing a statewide mask mandate. When Johnson first made masks a requirement in Savannah in June 2020, the mandate created a public struggle between Johnson and Kemp over whether local officials had the authority to impose more sweeping restrictions than the state.

Savannah's mandate, which applies to everyone regardless of vaccination status, requires residents to wear a mask indoors when not with immediate family and is in effect in city buildings, early childhood facilities, hospitals and transportation.