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Coronavirus latest: Veterans Affairs is the first US federal agency to prescribe a vaccine for employees

Savannah has reintroduced its mask mandate due to the “steep” increase in daily Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations across the city and the state of Georgia.

The order is effective immediately and requires people in the city of around 145,000 people to wear masks in public indoor spaces regardless of vaccination status, Mayor Van Johnson said at a press conference on Monday. The mandate applies to places such as city administration buildings and school facilities.

The decision places the Atlantic coastal city alongside St. Louis, Missouri, one of the US hotspots for the Delta variant of Covid-19, where a reintroduced mask mandate went into effect on Monday, and the County of Los Angeles, which brought its mask back early order this month.

Johnson said the decision to bring masks back was in response to a “steep and alarming increase” in new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Savannah and surrounding Georgia counties. This was due to factors such as the spread of the more easily transferable Delta variant, gatherings and events such as Independence Day, and also because “many people have become less vigilant” and have become negligent about public health guidelines.

Savannah’s relatively low vaccination rate of 41 percent of fully vaccinated residents likely contributed, he continued.

Johnson said he expected to be asked whether the mandate penalized the minority and admitted, “Yes, we probably are.” “However, the minority is punished for the majority’s inaction,” he said.

The Chatham county, which surrounds Savannah, has seen an average of nearly 63 new coronavirus cases per day for the past week, up from 7.3 on June 28, Johnson said. The community transmission index, which reports new cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period, rose from 76 to 230 on July 9. More than 75 people in three Savannah hospitals were being treated for coronavirus, Johnson said.

Georgia has 38 percent of its population fully vaccinated, ranking 44th of the US state and about 11 percentage points below the national average.

More than 11,729 new coronavirus cases were reported in Georgia in the past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is the sixth highest number among the states during this period, but corresponds to about 3.5 percent of the nationwide new infections.

After adjusting for population, Georgia has an average of about 15.8 new cases per 100,000 people per day, the 13th-highest rate in the US, behind Utah and ahead of Arizona.

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