MONTGOMERY — More Alabama cities are implementing, or considering, a requirement to wear face masks in public places to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
Montgomery and Birmingham and Jefferson County have orders in place requiring face masks in public places. The mayor of Selma on Friday issued a similar order. The mayors of Decatur and Mobile indicated their city councils will discuss the idea.
No area cities have yet issued any mandatory masks orders, but recent comments from elected officials and healthcare leaders emphasized the need to wear masks in public to residents who have opted to bypass the practice.
Eufaula Mayor Jack Tibbs said his city is monitoring the possibility of making the wearing of masks mandatory, but for the time being its is asking everyone to practice precautionary measures such as social distancing, washing hands and using hand sanitizer when possible.
“It’s so hard for people to wear them (masks) when it’s so hot like this,” Tibbs said. “We’ve talked about the possibility (of making it mandatory), but it’d hard to police. We’re just hopeful that people are aware at the gas pump and everywhere else.”
In the last Dothan-Houston County Joint Information Center meeting, both Houston County Commission Chairman Mark Culver and Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba warned citizens against complacency amid the ongoing health threat.
“We’ve got to take the right actions to make sure this spread and this increase does not continue,” Culver said. “We’ve got to wear masks. We’ve got to maintain social distancing. This disease is still among us.”
Saliba said officials understand the frustrations to get the economy rolling and to feel safe in the community.
“We want to do the best, proportionate response to what’s going on. Please consider that this is serious,” Saliba said. “It’s not just protecting yourself, but it’s protecting those that are the most vulnerable in our city and our county.”
Additionally, in a recent interview with the Eagle, Southeast Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Charles Harkness said COVID-19 is an aerosolized virus and highly contagious. It spreads easily from person to person in enclosed environments and when people are in close contact or talking with one another.
“I think what bothers us the most is that we see people going into stores, restaurants or things like that without wearing masks,” Harkness said. “We’re not trying to dictate how they live, but we’re trying to prevent them from getting what could be a fatal illness.”
Harkness, like other medical professionals, said the most important thing area residents can do to prevent getting the virus is wear a mask, especially when going into enclosed spaces, and adhere to social distancing guidelines from the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of Sunday, the state had reported more than 34,600 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, and at least 898 deaths from the virus. More than a fourth of the cases came in the last two weeks. The state last week hit the highest number of cases reported in a single day with more than 1,100 cases.
State health officials have expressed concern over the numbers.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey will decide in the coming days whether to extend Alabama’s “safer at home” order that expires Friday. The order limits occupancy in stores, bars and restaurants, requires restaurant employees to wear masks and encourages members of the public to wear masks.
Alabama health officials have announced they plan to put color-coded rankings to track the spread of COVID-19 in counties. The map, which will list counties as red, yellow or green is not yet available on the state dashboard, but is expected to be unveiled in coming days, State Health Officer Scott Harris said last week.
Harris said that the display is meant to give people and local officials information in a form that is “easy to see.”