SAVANNAH, Ga. - Savannah Mayor Van Johnson issued an emergency order Tuesday that will make wearing masks in public mandatory.
The emergency order was announced during the mayor's weekly Tuesday morning press conference.
“Frankly and honestly, I do not believe that we have any other choice,” Mayor Van Johnson told a news conference, warning that “COVID-19 cases are spiking in our community.”
The order goes into effect at 8 a.m. July 1 and will continue "until further notice." The order does not apply to religious establishments, though most are closed, Johnson said.
Those who refuse to comply could face $500 fines.
“Before we cite you, we will offer you a face covering,” the mayor said. “So again, this is not to be punitive.”
Restaurants, retail stores, pharmacies, salons and grocery stores must require employees to wear face coverings while dealing with the public.
There exceptions to the order for those who cannot safely wear a mask due to age or health conditions.
A city of 145,000 that depends on tourism, Savannah appears to be the first city in Georgia to make wearing masks mandatory.
Georgia has seen record highs for single-day increases in confirmed COVID-19 cases in recent days. Since Friday, more than 6,400 new cases have been reported bringing the total to over 79,000.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed two new executive orders Monday, which extended the Public Health State of Emergency and reaffirmed current safety measures during the on-going coronavirus pandemic.
While Kemp has encouraged Georgians to wear a mask in public and practice social distancing, there has not been a state mandate to wear a mask.
Best prevention measures:
• Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least twenty seconds.
• If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.