Huntsville officials say data will show if order is working; study finds masks may protect wearer

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Alabama continues to see a drastic rise in the number of COVID-19 cases. In the last 24 hours, the state added more than 1,900 cases, bringing Alabama’s total to more than 62,000.

More than 1,200 people have died in Alabama from the virus. In North Alabama, there are more than 12,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those cases, more than 3,100 are in Madison County — which has added 175 cases in the past 24 hours.

Friday’s Huntsville-area COVID-19 briefing marked the first update since Governor Kay Ivey’s statewide masking order. Madison County residents had been under a countywide mandate for a week when Thursday’s statewide order took effect.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said earlier this week masks are the best shot people have at avoiding illness until a vaccine is available. Officials said Friday if people take the mask order and other behaviors seriously, we should begin to see a case decline.

Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department Public Health said Friday a new study out of Missouri found that masks appear to have kept more than 100 customers of two infected hair stylists from getting COVID-19. The study was based on findings from a salon in Springfield, Mo.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said that Madison County has topped the state in cases per 100,000 people over the past 14 days. But he also said case rates have fallen a bit this week, and the number of patients in Huntsville Hospital fell from Monday to Friday.

Battle pointed out Madison County still has fewer cases than other large Alabama counties, but the trend line hasn’t been good.

He acknowledged wearing a mask can be uncomfortable, but said unless the current measures begin to prove effective in flattening case rates locally, other shutdown measures would have to be looked at like closing bars.

Landers said reducing case rates will also help schools.

“We need to be able to get our numbers down so that parents and students and teachers can all feel more comfortable with what’s going on in the educational system,” Landers said.

School officials will make the decisions, Landers said, but she stresses that the same approaches being urged in the community will have to be employed in the classroom.

“That we will need to practice all the social distancing measures, we will need to practice the separation in terms of the six feet,” she said. “We will need to practice good respiratory hygiene and we will need to practice masks for children that can wear a mask.”

Officials said they aren’t seeing any spikes in connection with local congregations and that there aren’t any particular hotspots in Madison County for cases that they have identified.

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