UAB epidemiologist concerned about end of mask mandate, new COVID outbreak

Health leaders urging mask use past April 9

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Alabama’s mandatory face mask order expires Friday, April 9. Governor Kay Ivey continues to say she will not extend the order despite requests coming from President Joe Biden to governors across the country.

The big concern for face masks has always been the spread of COVID-19 and possible increase in hospitalizations, which earlier this year put other healthcare services at risk because of a big surge in cases.

Positive COVID cases have dropped as well as hospitalizations. Statewide, there are more than 300 people in the hospital for the coronavirus. Health leaders have pushed wearing face masks and staying out of big crowds as a big reason why the numbers have dropped. Still, with the mandatory face mask order expiring, Alabama health leaders say there is no reason people should stop wearing them yet.

Dr. Rachael Lee, an epidemiologist at UAB, agrees. Dr. Lee said now is not the time to put away face masks, even with good numbers and more people getting vaccinated.

“We think about a year ago where we were and where we are now. We are in an incredible place. We were all at home trying to distance as much as possible. Now we have a vaccine, on the brink of getting over this pandemic. Hopefully, one of the ways we can do that in addition to vaccines is by wearing masks,” Lee said.

The Birmingham City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on extending the face mask order until May. There is renewed concern about another surge or a fourth outbreak of COVID in the country.

Restrictions are being dropped across the country. More are opening up for business. If people drop their guard, many fear the fourth wave will continue to spread. Right now, it’s mostly in the eastern part of the country, but many do believe it could spread south and west.

“We still have a large number of people who need vaccines, including the younger population and with the major variants including the UK variant, which is very transmissible, which means you can spread it from person to person and we are seeing it a lot more in our younger population. This is where we want to vaccinate a lot more as soon as we can,” Dr. Lee said.

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