In late April, Southern weekender destination Savannah, Georgia, was bracing for a post-lockdown “flood of tourists”—and with it, a subsequent surge in coronavirus cases. At that point, the county’s percentage of positive test results hovered around 2 percent. By the end of June, as long cooped-up travelers poured into the city from all along the Eastern Seaboard, the city’s percentage-positive rate nearly quadrupled, and in an attempt to re-flatten the curve, Savannah’s Mayor Van Johnson issued an executive mask mandate.
"Savannah is experiencing thousands of visitors on our streets, in our establishments and most of them are not wearing face coverings,” Johnson wrote in a letter to Georgia’s notoriously mask mandate-averse governor Brian Kemp. “Infection numbers have exploded over the last three weeks and there is no indication that this disturbing trend is reversing.” Since that point, the trolleys continue to circle, the bridesmaids continue to tour, and the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms in Savannah has only continued to climb. But just a few miles from the heart of the tourist district, in a nondescript medical complex on Eisenhower Drive, Savannahians were volunteering, under the radar, to receive test injections of an experimental new COVID-19 vaccine. “That one we weren’t allowed to talk about,” Savannah physician Dr. Paul Bradley said of the 600-participant Moderna vaccine trial for COVID-19 that unfolded this spring across 10 U.S. sites, including Savannah.