This afternoon, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson had a forceful response to Gov. Brian Kemp's recent executive order overturning any local ordinances requiring mask usage.
However, while saying Kemp has overstepped his authority, Johnson stopped short of announcing a specific legal challenge to the governor's authority.
"We are prepared to defend our position," he said, essentially challenging the state to make the next move — for now.
(Editor's Note: A few hours after the Mayor's press conference, Kemp announced the state is suing the City of Atlanta to overturn its mask mandate, which is similar to Savannah's.)
"Gov. Brian Kemp issued an order attempting to invalidate Savannah's mask requirement by stripping local authority... across the state, including Atlanta, Augusta, Savannah, Rome, Hinesville, and the Governor's hometown of Athens-Clarke County," said Johnson. "Here, nothing has changed."
Referring to his immediate reaction Wednesday night on social media, Johnson said, "I was so angry last night that I expressed exactly what I felt. And admittedly I know I may not have said it in the kindest, gentlest, sweetest way, or in a way my mother would approve of. But it clearly, unequivocally reflects my frustration."
The Mayor continued, "I am not going to mince words. We believe that Gov. Kemp is overstepping his authority. With that said our emergency declaration still stands... We will continue to follow the science. We will continue to provide masks for free to whoever wants them and needs them. We will continue to mandate them and continue to require them in our city."
"Masks are not a political statement, masks are a public health tool — a necessary public health tool," he said.
Referring to what he calls "mixed messages" from the Governor, Johnson said,
"We have continually done everything we could to be good partners with our Governor.... How can we take care of our local needs when our state ties our hands behind our backs and says to ignore the advice of experts and in some cases, their own advice?"
The numbers, the Mayor says, speak for themselves.
"Today we have had almost 3,000 total cases. Last Thursday we had 2116... We have added 879 cases in just one week," he said.
As of yesterday, there were 148 people in local hospitals with COVID-19. "On June 16, exactly one month ago, just 30 people were hospitalized," Johnson said.
Johnson said large retailers like Walmart and Kroger are "showing us the way" with recent decisions to require mask usage by all customers.
When asked if he has been commiserating with other like-minded mayors, he said "All night long."
"I liken it to an episode of the Twilight Zone," he said of their continued "bewilderment" at the Governor's behavior and mixed messages.