HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Madison County Health Officer Dr. Karen Landers has issued a health order requiring most people to wear face coverings in public places in Madison County to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The order takes effect on July 7 at 5 p.m.
“We need to do all we can to limit the spread of COVID-19,” State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said. “Until we have a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, wearing a face covering in public is a key measure we have available to prevent transmission of the virus.”
State health officials say this order has the unanimous support of the Madison County Board of Health, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Madison Mayor Paul Finley,and County Commission Chair Dale Strong.
“This is a simple math problem,” said Battle. “Since June 16, the number of positive cases in Madison County has tripled, and the number of hospitalizations has increased 660 percent. We need to take precautionary measures, such as wearing face covers, distancing 6 feet, and handwashing to provide a safe environment for our citizens.”
“Since day one we as elected officials have said we would work to find the balance of personal versus economic health. While personal responsibility is still paramount, our dramatic rising numbers dictate this step be taken to continue to support all citizens’ safety,” Finley said.
The heath department says enforcement of the face covering order will be up to local law enforcement.
“They don’t realize the impact of how serious this can be. They don’t have a clue,” says Betty Mowery.
“I mean it’s good, but also disappointed,” says Taisha Sampson.
Very different views on masks, but the big question on everyone’s mind is: what will be the consequences for not wearing one? “This isn’t about fining, enforcement, arresting anyone particularly for the ordinance.
It’s about providing an opportunity to keep everyone safe and happy,” said Lt. Michael Johnson, with the Huntsville Police Department.
That’s right, there’s no fine in the order for not wearing one. But Johnson with the Huntsville Police Department says they will still enforce the order on a case by case situation.
“Our objective and goal is not immediate enforcement. It is to try and work though and figure out what can we do to make this work. Not everyone that calls in and says one individual, gives a description, not wearing a mask. If we have a volume of calls we’re working on with victims of other crimes going on. Naturally we’re not going to send somebody right away,” he explained.
Some people tell me they’re thrilled.
“If we don’t get a handle on this. We won’t be able to control this country, so we are going to have to wear masks or we aren’t going to make it,” said Julius Compton.
Others, not so much.
“I do abide by the law, so yes if the law goes into effect I would. But to a certain extent I would have to take it off and breathe. I probably would get a panic attack,” said Sampson.
Dr. Karen Landers with the Alabama Department of Public Health says she hopes people takes steps to protect themselves.
“If you have problems with anxiety and then you’re in the hospital and can’t have a lot of visitors, and you have to wear an oxygen mask or oxygen tubing in your nose. These can be equally challenging,” Landers said.
Landers says you don’t have to have a doctors note with you, and that it’s up to law enforcement on how they want to handle a complaint. Lt. Johnson also says officers will have masks available to hand out to people.
Face coverings are required in the following Madison County locations:
- Indoor spaces of businesses or venues open to the public, including stores, bars, restaurants, entertainment venues, public meeting spaces or government buildings.
- Transportation services available to the public, including mass transit, paratransit, taxi or ride-sharing services.
- Outdoor areas open to the public where 10 or more persons are gathered and where people are unable to maintain a distance of 6 or more feet between persons not from the same household.
Exceptions to wearing face coverings or masks include:
- Children age 2 and under.
- Persons while eating or drinking.
- Patients in examination rooms of medical offices, dental offices, clinics or hospitals where there examination of the mouth or nasal area is necessary.
- Customers receiving hair care services, temporary removal of face coverings when needed to provide hair care.
- Occasions when wearing a face covering poses a significant mental or physical health, safety or security risk. These include worksite risks.
- Although not mandated, face coverings are strongly recommended for congregants at worship services and for situations where people from different households are unable to or unlikely to maintain a distance of 6 feet from each other.
- When effective communication is needed for hearing-impaired persons and those speaking to a large group of people, provided the speaker can stay at least 6 feet away from other persons.
- Indoor athletic facilities. Patrons are not required to wear face coverings while actively participating in permitted athletic activities, but employees in regular interaction with patrons are required to wear face coverings or masks.
- Private clubs and gatherings not open to the public and where a consistent 6-foot distance between persons from different households is maintained.
A big question we’ve been getting, what is this going to look like at a restaurant?
Our crew stopped by MELT in downtown Huntsville Monday to ask them just that.
Assistant General Manager Jennifer Hurt says this order doesn't surprise her.
She says her staff is more than prepared to respond.
Hurt says no one will be allowed to come inside without a mask on.
“It’s going to be very different because of everyone coming in there’s only one or two that maybe have their mask on. They come in here thinking well I’m going to eat and take it off. But the next step forward and with restaurants is to keep the mask on until you eat,” Hurt said.
Parents, guardians and caregivers must ensure the proper masking of children over age 2 in public places, ensure face coverings do not pose a choking hazard for children and can be worn safely without obstructing a child’s ability to breathe.
Child care establishments and schools are to develop their face covering policies and procedures.
All businesses and venues open to the public must provide a notice stating that face coverings are required inside the establishment. Signage is required at all public entrances.
“Wearing a face covering can help keep family, co-workers, and community safe. This is the simplest act of kindness you can make for yourself, your family and your community, especially for those who are at high risk of contracting the virus,” said Harris.
The Alabama Department of Public Health defines a face covering as a device to cover the nose and mouth of a person to impede the spread of saliva or other fluids during speaking, coughing, sneezing, or other intentional or involuntary action. Medical-grade masks are not required. Coverings may be made from scarves, bandanas, or other fabrics.
COVID-19 infection is usually spread to others through a respiratory route, and this can occur without symptoms. ADPH says studies illustrate how COVID-19 can be spread through speaking, coughing, and sneezing, including by asymptomatic people.
Heath experts say face coverings create a barrier between a person’s face and the air around him or her, and face coverings prevent people from spreading respiratory droplets and can prevent them from acquiring the virus from others.
The Alabama Department of Public Health advises these actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds
- Social distance by staying 6 feet away from others
- Avoid people who are sick
- Stay home if you can; work remotely if possible
- Cover your mouth and nose with a face covering when around others
- Cover coughs and sneezes
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces
- Monitor your health
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides instructions about the use of face coverings atcdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html.
For more information, visit alabamapublichealth.gov.