BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Jefferson County’s mandatory face covering order went into effect at 5 p.m. Monday. The new ordinance will require you to wear face coverings out in public with a few exceptions.
Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson said there are increasing numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases and a large number of people are emailing him daily claiming people are not wearing masks or social distancing. This is why Wilson issued the order Friday for Jefferson County.
Dr. Wilson said he did not want to come out with the order, but seeing cases increase in Jefferson County he felt like it was a necessary step. He understands there are people who are frustrated and want the pandemic to be over, but the disease is not thinking that way. Wilson has been in contact with local leaders telling them there is a growing number of studies to show wearing face coverings make a difference. Wilson said if this fails to slow the numbers of the spread, shutting down businesses again is not off the table.
“If you look at other states. In the sunbelt, the south. You know Florida, Arizona, Texas, they are in serious trouble and they are in fact having to shut down certain things,” Wilson said.
Dr. Wilson said people in Jefferson County can prevent that. He said social distancing, which is needed even more than face coverings, can stop the spread. This is not a case of more testing, but actual spread of the disease. He said if this does not slow the numbers in a couple of weeks, more drastic action would need to be taken.
Birmingham already has a mandatory face covering ordinance. You could be fined or arrested, though no one has been fined or arrested so far. The police department took the approach of educating people about the law.
At Gus’ Hot Dogs in Irondale, it’s a busy lunch hour. People here who are working were already wearing face coverings. Customers were doing the same. The Irondale Police Department doesn’t believe it will be a problem. Sgt. Michael Mangina said he has been out and seen a number of people complying with the order. Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson said he doesn’t want people arrested or fined. Mangina says taking action is the last thing they want to do.
“All we are going to do if we are called or it’s brought to our attention, we are going to politely ask anyone to wear a face covering,” Sgt. Mangina said.
The owner of Gus’ Hot Dogs believes the order is needed. “If everybody wears the mask. We’ve got to be a little bit safer. I think it’s good. We have been wearing the masks. We have been wearing the gloves,” John Musso said.
Mangina said if there is a repeated violator they are made aware of, they will issue a ticket and then that person will have to go to court much like a speeding ticket.
Dr. Don Williamson, the Executive Director of the Alabama Hospital Association, said wearing face coverings will help slow the spread of the coronavirus, but he doesn’t believe just implementing a statewide order will be effective to do that.
Dr. Williamson said there is growing concern across the state of Alabama where we are seeing a big jump in COVID-19 cases. Places like Jefferson County, Montgomery County, Mobile and even Huntsville are looking at mandatory orders or even ordinances by the local governments. The Hospital Association believes face coverings can make a difference in the spread of the virus. Williamson believes these orders or ordinances will be effective in areas where there are actually an outbreak of cases.
“Community ordinances specific to the disease burden in the community is more effective and more likely to be adhered to than simply implementing a statewide ordinance that many will ignore,” Williamson said.
Williamson believes targeting key areas can be effective rather than just a statewide blanket ordinance. He also believes Jefferson County’s ordinance will empower businesses to put up signs saying face masks are required.