Everyone in Jefferson County has been required to wear a face covering in public places since Monday, June 27 at 5 p.m., and there’s no end date set for the order this time.
Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson issued the face-covering order Friday, June 24. It requires that everyone in Jefferson County over the age of eight wear a face mask, scarf or other material that covers the nose and mouth when they are out in public.
His action was in response to rising coronavirus cases in Jefferson County.
“Things are moving in the wrong direction, and I am very concerned,” Wilson said.
People are required to wear facial coverings while in indoor spaces open to the general public, which Wilson said includes “stores, bars and restaurants – except when people are eating or drinking – entertainment venues, public meeting spaces, government buildings, civic centers, etc.”
The mandate also includes transportation services, such as buses and other forms of mass transit, as well as ride-sharing services such as Uber.
In addition, masks must be worn in outdoor public spaces where 10 or more people not from the same household are gathered and cannot maintain a six-foot distance from each other.
The ordinance does not apply to schools and day cares, Wilson noted. Those organizations will work with local and state health officials to create plans.
The ordinance also does not apply in houses of worship, Wilson said, but he strongly recommended that congregants wear masks when in an environment where groups are singing, speaking and unable to maintain a proper social distance.
During the press conference, Wilson said the spread of the virus is getting worse in Jefferson County, and the order will remain in effect until he sees improvement.
“Unfortunately, it has become a controversial issue, and it really should not,” Wilson said. “This is public health. This is science. This is doing what is right for our community based on the best information we have about how to protect people from the spread of disease.”
Why Mask Up?
Wearing a mask is less about protecting oneself than about protecting others, Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases, said.
A person who wears a mask is protecting others from their own germs. If there are 20 people in a room and all are wearing masks, they have all protected each other. If one person is not wearing a mask and happens to be carrying the virus, that one individual has put everyone in the room at risk.
“It’s not just you we are talking about, it’s you as you affect and interact with every other member of your community and your family and your workplace,” Marrazzo said.
As far as assessing whether you are putting yourself at risk, she said the standard measure is 15 minutes spent within six feet of another individual without a mask. Within that timeframe, one can assume they would have contracted the virus if the other person is infected.
She also emphasized that people are contagious for several days before they start to experience symptoms, and others develop only mild symptoms they might mistake for allergies or a cold.
Marrazzo noted that the aversion some people have to the wearing of masks can be boiled down to a lack of understanding when it comes to the severity of critical COVID-19 cases. She noted that a large number of people have never been admitted to or visited an intensive care unit before, and they haven’t seen someone fight for their life while on a ventilator.
“It’s really heartbreaking, especially when patients are dying alone,” Marrazzo said. “Remember, they are isolated. We don’t want staff and other people mixing with them. We don’t want their vulnerable family members going with them.”
The weight of a community failing to take measures to slow the pandemic rests heavily on hospitals, she said.
While UAB has been managing, a rise in cases would mean a rise in critically ill patients in need of intensive care and the use of a ventilator. A dramatic increase would put a strain on hospital staff and medical professionals, and hospitals with fewer resources than UAB might not have the room or equipment to expand to care for more COVID-19 cases.
She also said rising COVID-19 cases limit other kinds of care that the hospital typically would provide. In other places more heavily affected by coronavirus outbreaks, Marrazzo said, care for other diseases just stopped.
“Heart attacks were happening, but people weren’t getting care,” she said. “Strokes were happening, but people weren’t getting care.”
For more information on masks, tutorials and diagrams to make your own face coverings, visit uabmedicine.org/masking.