JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — The Jefferson County Unified Command has issued a mandatory face-covering order that will go into effect on Monday, June 29 at 5 p.m. and remain in effect indefinitely.
According to the new Jefferson County ordinance, everyone over the age of 8 must wear a face mask or facial covering while in public. The order applies to bars, restaurants, gatherings over 10 people, but it excludes schools and places of worship. Health officials still strongly recommend congregants wear face coverings, “especially when singing or speaking.” This new ordinance will supersede the Birmingham face-covering ordinance that is set to expire July 3. All businesses accessible to the public are required to post a notice of the ordinance.
Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson says wearing masks could potentially reduce the transmission of COVID-19 by 50%. As the number of cases continues to climb, he advises all citizens to recognize the seriousness of the pandemic.
“Unfortunately this has become a controversial issue and it really should not. This is public health and we’re doing the best we can based on science to protect people from the disease,” said Dr. Wilson.
Dr. Michael Saag, Professor of Medicine in UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases, says face coverings will not only cut down on the number of cases but will help free up hospital resources. The more people who require COVID-19 treatment, the fewer space hospitals have for treating people suffering from other ailments, he said.
“Every hospital in the Birmingham area is being stretched now, and contingency plans are being made to handle the increase in cases we expect in the next three weeks. Frankly, as a healthcare worker, it’s scary,” Dr. Saag said. “If hospitals are being stretched to overflow and can’t handle the volume of patients, I’m not sure we can do any kind of normal activity and that would include football and other sports.”
During the conference, health officials urged Jefferson County citizens to adhere to the face mask ordinance, saying that a failure to do so will lead to an uptick in cases and possibly, more future restrictions.
“If we don’t participate in mask-wearing and do everything we can to get this under control, I’m afraid we’re going to have to start drifting back to more restrictions and the first place we might look is a bar or indoor restaurant,” Dr. Saag warned.
According to Dr. Saag, a person has the highest transmissibility of COVID-19 in the 24 hours before they show symptoms. Dr. Wilson says that when it comes to face coverings, people are becoming careless and need to understand the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re losing the support of the public. People are getting careless. I’m reluctant to issue orders; they’re not popular. This topic has gotten political, which is bewildering, frankly,” said Dr. Wilson.
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, as of Friday, there are 33,717 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state. They’ve reported 887 coronavirus-related deaths and 2,653 cases requiring hospitalization.
Health officials report that so far in Alabama, 18,866 people have recovered from COVID-19, and 377,857 coronavirus tests have been completed.
Jefferson County is one of the top counties in the state for the number of reported cases.
For more details visit the Jefferson County Department of Public Health website.