Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson on Friday issued a mandatory mask-wearing order to begin Monday at 5 p.m. in an effort to reduce the increasing number of countywide COVID-19 cases.
“The virus is getting worse in Jefferson County, and we are moving in the wrong direction,” Wilson said.
Friday, the county once again reported its biggest increase, with 149 new cases. That raised total cases in the county since the pandemic began to 3,481.
Wilson said the order, which has no expiration date, was approved by Alabama Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris.
Face coverings will be required in all indoor public places in the county, on all public transportation services and in outdoor areas where 10 or more people cannot gather six feet apart from each other. Churches are exempt from the order, although Wilson urged leaders to implement social distancing requirements needed to prevent the spread of the virus.
Wilson said the wearing of face masks has become controversial and “it should not have.”
The public using masks can reduce the transmission of COVID-19 by 50%, Wilson said, “and get our numbers moving in the right direction.”
“Wearing a mask is a basic kindness and a decency for others. I have trouble understanding the mindset of those who do not wear masks,” he said.
Dr. Michael Saag, a UAB Division of Infectious Diseases professor, said that if the public does not wear masks, the number of coronavirus cases will go up throughout the summer, and that number will stress the health care system.
“UAB is prepared, as are most hospitals; but if the numbers continue to go up, hospitals will be stretched, not just for COVID patients, but for all of us,” Saag said. “This is a call-out for the community to do the right thing.”
Saag pointed out that every time people talk, the virus, if present, goes out of their mouths, creating something of a virus cloud around them. If they cough or sneeze, the virus is propelled 10 to 12 feet.
“The masks block the release of the virus, and a lot of transmissions are done by those without COVID symptoms,” he said.
Saag implored people to obey Wilson’s order.
“We are looking at 180,000 projected deaths in the U.S. from COVID by September and 3,000 deaths in Alabama — that’s 2,000 new deaths,” he said. “We can prevent 700 people from dying in the next few months if we wear masks.”
Saag said there are virus hot spots across the state, and “simple things,” such as masks and distancing can reduce the transmissions by 50%.
“Two weeks from now, we will see the effects of the transmissions from yesterday,” he added. “We have a lot of work in front of us.”
Saag said it was wise of Wilson to keep his order open-ended until he deems it unnecessary.
Wilson said he does not wish to see the closings of bars and restaurants, “but everything is on the table.”
He said has been considering the order for the past couple of weeks as case counts hit record highs.
Reopening schools is a concern to him, he said, but schools are now left out of the order.
Details of the order can be found at the county Health Department’s website, along with a tool kit to support the use of masks and signage stores can post to remind people they must wear masks.