May 13, 2020 – Mayor Van Johnson, on behalf of the City of Savannah, along with a long list of business leaders from area business associations, held a joint press conference today to announce a process for businesses to pledge to their employees and customers that they are following the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for reopening safely. 

Johnson has received national attention for his leadership in encouraging Savannah residents and businesses to remain closed, and practice social distancing since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The efforts appear to have worked, as Savannah, which is the 5th most populous city in Georgia, is 138th out of 159 cities for infection rates, the Mayor stated. 

“But, in addition to healthy people, we must also have healthy businesses, with businesses both taking care of their employees and their customers.  The impact on our local business community has been massive, including small business owners, people’s whose life work and savings has been severely reduced due to the closures.

“There are some things that we can not change, and things we can change, and we have to have the wisdom to know the difference,” Johnson said,

“The State of Georgia is open, and there are folks all over the place. They are returning to Savannah,” he said, in announcing the “Savannah Safe” program to help residents and visitors know which businesses are following the CDC guidelines.

Participating in the press conference was the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce, The Greater Savannah Black Chamber of Commerce, The Metropolitan Savannah Hispanic Chamber, Visit Savannah, the Downtown Business Association, Buy Local, and the Tourism Leadership Council. “It is mutually beneficial to us all to reopen our businesses, but based on science,” Johnson emphasized.

Businesses are being asked to voluntarily publicly pledge to follow the CDC guidelines by registering at www.SavannahSafe.com, and following all CDC guides. This includes wearing masks and following customer density recommendations by the CDC.

The PLEDGE includes SEVEN points:

- Require and encourage the use of face coverings by staff and customers.

- Reduce occupancy in common spaces, to ensure compliance with CDC social distancing guidelines.

- Encourage customer hand sanitizing and hand-washing, as available.

- Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces frequently, per the CDC and FDA.

- Enhance employee protocols including increased regular hand-washing, sanitization efforts, and social distancing.

- Abide by all orders and directives issued by governmental and public health officials.

- Remember to wash your hands and follow social distancing guidelines by remaining at least 6 feet away from others.

“This is an intersection where personal responsibility and business responsibility meet,” explained Mayor Johnson. All businesses that choose to commit will receive a certificate they can use in their place of business, and in any marketing, committing to their customers and their Mayor,” Johnson said.  “We will be able to help more businesses get back to business quicker, by identifying  that they are identified as “Savannah Safe,” giving customers a level of comfort to return to local shopping, professional services and dining.  

And, all businesses that commit to being Savannah Safe, will be listed on the new website, organized by business category. 

“These are the power players in our city,” Johnson said, referring to those attending the press conference. “We all want the same thing.  We want healthy people, and we want our business community to be healthy.”  

“The next step is to work with Visit Savannah on how we roll out our tourism effort,” he added. “We will be addressing this soon." 

Bella Canvas of Los Angeles has donated 4,500 face masks to Savannah, in a partnership with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, converting their production from apparel to non-medical face coverings.   

“We know that masks do not prevent infections, but science says … if I’m sick, a mask stops me from infecting you,” stated the Mayor.  Pick up locations will be announced shortly, and masks will be distributed to local homeless areas.

There will not be an individual inspection by business, but a pledge.  However, the Mayor stated that the City’s Code Compliance department will be inspecting businesses where customers turn them in – that they have a “Savannah Safe” poster in their window, but are not complying.  “We will pull certificates … “As we’ve found in this community, your own customers are turning you in.”

“If they’re not operating in that way, not operating in the way that the CDC subscribes, then they’re not in compliance … I think businesses really want to do the right thing.  We’re received so many calls from businesses, wanting to do the right thing,” he said.

“It’s like the health department rating.  If the number isn’t high enough, I’m not going,” he explained. referring to ratings by the Chatham County Board of Health which inspects the kitchens of restaurants and fast food locations.

Regarding to the latest information on returning tourists, Michael Owens, president of the TLC, said that several lodging facilities not ready to open yet because they are still training their staffs.  “Those that are operating have reasonably good business.  Most is drive-on business, coming for the weekend.  However, we think it will be a long recovery.  It will be years,” to return to pre-COVID-19 levels.

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