Mayor Johnson media conference – April 21, 2020
Talking points for: Mayor Van R. Johnson, II
● Good morning, and welcome to my first remote news conference.
● We want to continue to share what we know with the public and our media partners, and we want to make sure we’re doing it in the safest way possible.
● Our local news outlets are joining me through Zoom, so they can ask questions and help us get information out.
● While many folks around the country are eager to rush the economy back open at full speed, we have to continue to follow the science.
● I promise you one thing. I will fight for what’s right for Savannah based solely upon what medical experts tell us. One life lost is one too many and currently, that one has been amplified six-fold.
● Governor Kemp and I have not spoken about his plans for reopening the State of Georgia, but based upon his press conference last evening, I do have some thoughts to share with you and for the state’s edification on actions I plan to initiate in Savannah and for Savannah.
● To be absolutely clear, I was just as surprised as the rest of the world when Governor Kemp announced his plans to declare reopenings of some businesses on this Friday and the reopenings of others three days later on next Monday. This was in advance of the expiration of his April 30 order, and it was well in advance of even the suggested guidelines from the White House regarding Phase I openings.
● The science tells us that gradual moves toward reopening should occur when there is a clear declining trajectory of new cases and wide-spread testing. At this point, we are still on the upward trend of new cases, and while testing is becoming more widely available, it is still not available for everyone, so it is still difficult to get a handle of the length and breadth of our exposure. So, in my opinion, we are still far from where we need to be before we can even consider opening.
● Think about it. Gyms where people sweat and utilize common spaces and equipment. Bowling alleys where shoes are shared and fingers are inserted into common bowling balls. Movie theaters with common spaces and bathrooms. Restaurants where servers are worried and concerned about those coming in for a meal. This is not how you want to reopen a community, and as a city that has 15 million visitors a year, people will not come here to visit if the people who live here don’t feel safe.
● If this is to be a "phased-in" re-opening, there are still so many unanswered questions. What about our citizens who are considered high risk? What about employees who have school-aged children at home who won’t have any supervision because schools are closed for the remainder of the year? What about the unemployment checks from last week that our citizens have been waiting on just to make ends meet? What about residents in and employees of nursing homes, prisons and jails? What about our local public safety officers, who are experiencing difficulty enforcing the Governor’s current order?
● Governor Kemp has made his legal order, and as your Mayor, I am telling you that you are the Governors and Mayors of your households. You call the shots in your homes and your businesses. You get to choose where you go and where you don’t go. So I am asking you to continue to follow the science, to continue exercising common sense and to continue to stay home. I am asking businesses in this City - wherever and however possible - to remain closed and not place your employees and customers in dangerous situations. There is no way that hair, nails, massages and tattoos can be done at a safe distance, so I am asking Savannahians to persevere a little longer and to sacrifice personal care in the interests of personal safety. I am asking our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples to remain closed to in-person services and to continue to meet via technology for a while longer. I am asking you to continue to wear your face coverings, maintain safe distances and protect those that you love.
● We love, appreciate and support our businesses as well, but we realize that those businesses are owned and operated by people that we swore to protect. Many of our businesses would not be able to survive a sustained closure due to exposure to infections.
● As for the City of Savannah, and because we care about our employees and citizens, we will continue to operate under our current protocols. Recreational areas and community centers will remain closed. Entry into City facilities will remain restricted. Our employees will continue to work remotely as assigned. Our Council will continue to meet remotely until we have determined by the science that it is safe to do differently. And be clear, we reserve the right and the obligation to close City parks if we believe that social distancing is not being observed. Savannah City Hall will remain illuminated in red because we can not forget that we are still in the midst of a critical health emergency - nationally, state-wide and locally.
● Last evening, I spoke with Sheriff John Wilcher, who informed me that his existing protocols at the Chatham County Detention Center will remain in place until further notice.
● Thanks to our great partners at the Coastal Health District, under the leadership of Dr. Lawton Davis, COVID-19 tests are becoming more readily available.
● The Coastal Health District has a new call center to screen people over the phone for COVID-19 testing.
● You can call 912-230-9744 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. to see if you’re eligible for a test.
● You can request a test through the call center if you have symptoms like fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
● You can also request a test if you don’t have symptoms, and you are a health care professional, critical infrastructure worker, emergency responder, or someone living or working in a group setting.
● If you meet the criteria for testing, health department staff will schedule you an appointment at one of their drive-through sites.
● You cannot show up for testing without scheduling it first, please keep the safety of everyone in mind and call the health department or your doctor if you feel you need access to a test.
● As you know, our sanitation department is not collecting yard waste right now, but we have come up with a solution to pick up this garbage.
● The company that helps with our hurricane debris will make a one-time collection starting on Monday, April 27.
● They will follow the regular Tuesday-Friday yard waste collection schedule and will make one pass through the city.
● This could possibly be the only collection for the next 6-8 weeks. Please, if you have leaves, limbs or grass clippings to get rid of, make sure you take them to the curb next week.
● We know this is an uncertain and challenging time for many in our community who suddenly find themselves without a job or with fewer hours.
● If you’re unemployed, underemployed or still waiting to hear about your unemployment application, there are companies throughout our city hiring.
● Many businesses, like grocery stores, have a real need for additional help during this time, even if it’s only a temporary solution.
● We’re still asking you to limit your interactions with others, whether you’re at work, exercising outdoors or shopping for essential items.
● Staying home whenever possible is still essential to preventing the spread of COVID-19 locally.
● Even with close to 200 cases of COVID-19 in Chatham County, we’ve been blessed compared to other places.
● But in order to continue our relatively low rates, social distancing must continue.
● May God bless you, and may God continue to bless Savannah.