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Mayor Johnson orders Savannah bars to close, limits restaurants to half-capacity and takeout only
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In a special City Council meeting today conducted by conference call, Mayor Van Johnson proposed to close all bars and nightclubs in Savannah that don't serve food, cease all guided and narrated tours, and limit restaurant service to fifty percent capacity or takeout service only.

Johnson signed the order, but will also seek approval by Council vote at the next Council meeting, expected Friday afternoon.

The measure goes into effect 8 a.m. this Saturday, March 21. A tentative end date is April 5, but that is subject to change.

The emergency declaration in response to the COVID-19 pandemic would also
mandate the closing of all gyms, fitness centers, movie theaters and live performance venues in City limits.

"When we close businesses we're also closing livelihoods. There's simply not any work. We also recognize that at this time people still need to get to food... restaurants still have a very important role," Mayor Johnson said.

Another measure would make all parking in the City free for one hour, "to support takeout operations," the Mayor said.

The proposal happened hours after Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms ordered a similar measure.

"A lot has happened since last Thursday," Johnson explained, referring to the meeting last week in which the St. Patrick's Day Parade and festival were canceled, but all businesses otherwise left open and unregulated.

"I have been on the phone with the governor's office and several phone calls with mayors," Johnson said. "We've also been on daily calls with the Coastal Health District."

The proposal comes the same day that the state of Georgia experienced a dramatic ramping-up of confirmed COVID-19 cases, with ten deaths. As of this writing, Chatham County still has no confirmed case.

The closest cases are in Beaufort County, S.C., and Glynn County and Effingham Counties in Georgia.

"This means there is asymptomatic transmission occurring in coastal communities," Johnson said of the Glynn County cases, which are within our regional health district. (The news about the Effingham case broke after the meeting's conclusion.)

"Not everyone with respiratory symptoms needs to be tested," Johnson said, pointing out that prioritization of testing is needed due to the relative scarcity of tests.

In other news, very limited drive-through testing for those who with PRIOR physician approval will be introduced this Friday at 1:30 p.m. in the parking lot of the Jennifer Ross complex.

However, only 90 tests will be available, according to City Manager Pat Monahan. These tests will "not be for the general public" at large, the Mayor said.

Mayor Johnson urged anyone who thinks they need care to CALL FIRST before showing up at the ER or the doctor's office, to keep from infecting uninfected patients and staff at the location.

Alderwoman Bernetta Lanier expressed a concern about the quality of available information for the public.

"People have a lot of time to sit home and interject on social media," she said, suggesting that there should be one place to go to for credible local information.

Mayor Johnson recommended calling 311 for the time being, a City service expected to be ramped up significantly soon.