State extends mask mandate

“Folks, I understand you don’t want to wear the masks. I don’t either. My glasses fog up, I can’t understand what people are saying because of the muffle effect the masks have on conversations, and I wish we didn’t have to wear masks.”

Despite that admission, Gov. Kay Ivey announced in a Thursday press conference that an extended Safer at Home order is now in place through Oct. 2 – including an extension of the state’s mask mandate through that date.

Ivey credited mask wearing with the state’s reduction in positive cases of and hospitalizations for COVID-19.

“Wearing a mask is simply the right thing to do. When you’re wearing a mask, you’re protecting the people in your office, church, school and your vulnerable family and friends,” Ivey said.

Ivey commended school superintendents, teachers and other school personnel who are taking extra efforts to enforce cleaning standards, social distancing and other safety measures. “We must remain committed to defeat this virus,” she added. “Ultimately, it is up to each individual to do our part.”

In Franklin County, confirmed cases totaled 10 Aug. 26, nine Aug. 25, four Aug. 24, 20 Aug. 23 and 10 Aug. 22, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. The highest count in the past 14 days was 30 cases Aug. 16.

Franklin County community leaders have their own thoughts about the wisdom of the extension.

“I understand the governor’s concern,” said Red Bay Mayor Charlene Fancher – noting that it’s a concern she and other, mayors share, a concern for the safety of citizens. “I will suggest and encourage our citizens to continue to take safety precautions, wear a mask where needed and keep distancing.”

Fancher did share a concern, on the other hand, that continuing the mask order risks inspiring an over-abundance of fear in the community.

“Cities have to function,” she pointed out. “We’re looking at things and being cautious; however, I think we should move forward with some of our functions and with Founders Fest.” The city’s annual heritage festival is set for Sept. 19.

Fancher encouraged people to be smart and not panic. “This is going to take time, but this too shall pass.”

Chamber of Commerce executive director Cassie Medley agreed caution is warranted and encouraged people to quarantine if they are ill. “Hopefully this will calm down and we can get back to normal – a ‘new normal,’” she said. Medley commended local businesses that haven taken extra efforts to sanitize, provide wipes and hand sanitizer and set up structures to help encourage safe distancing.

Dr. Scott Harris also spoke at the Thursday press conference, providing an update on the picture painted the coronavirus stats statewide.

“We are just past 14,000 hospitalizations so far, with almost 2,000 confirmed and probable deaths,” Harris said. “Given that, however, we are cautiously optimistic about what we have been seeing recently. Since the governor’s mask mandate went into effect, we have definitely seen improvements in our daily number of new cases, and the average daily number of deaths are declining.”

The Alabama Hospital Association spoke out in support of the mask mandate, thanking the governor’s office for its extension of the order.

“Over the past week, hospitals have begun to see a decline in hospitalizations due to COVID-19, clearly a result of the increased use of masks and social distancing,” said Dr. Donald E. Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association. “Our hospitals are extremely grateful to the governor and to our state health officer for extending the mask order through Oct. 2. The decrease in cases we’ve experienced is evidence that masks work to save lives and can help keep businesses and schools open.” 

“We are seeing positive results from the sacrifices we are making,” Ivey reiterated. “We all want to get back to normal, and the way to do that is wearing a mask.”