Huntsville-area leaders say masks effective against virus spread, shouldn’t be political

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — During Monday’s Huntsville-area COVID-19 briefing, officials said Madison County has nearly reached the 1,000 case mark.

Cases currently sit at 996, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Statewide, Alabama has reported nearly 37,000 COVID-19 cases since mid-March. Officials expressed concern Monday that the rapid increase in cases is based on community spread, which shows no signs of stopping.

Madison County has seen 430 cases in the past two weeks — that’s nearly half the total of all the county’s cases. Secondly, Huntsville Hospital reported performing nearly 2,000 tests last week. The number of positive tests is now as high as 8 percent — it had been just below 3 percent for several weeks.

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong said 14 HEMSI workers are out today either because they’ve been exposed to a COVID-19 patient or a family member has tested positive.

Both Strong and Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers underlined their support for residents wearing face coverings. Spillers also said the Huntsville Hospital system has its heaviest COVID-19 caseload to date.

“As of this morning, we have 115 COVID positive inpatients in our system,” Spillers said. “When I reported on June 1, we had 28. So that’s a substantial increase in the month of June.”

Strong said the message is clear.

“We don’t have this pandemic under control. Not in Madison County, not throughout the state of Alabama and not in the United States,” he said.

During the briefing, local leaders expressed less concern about hospital bed space and more about exposure of health care workers out in the community, like HEMSI workers. If the virus is spreading and people aren’t taking steps to control the spread, there is fear, and a grim expectation, that medical personnel will be exposed when they’re out in the community. Losing caregivers would be a serious problem, officials stressed.

Spillers said he knows masks are an emotional issue for some people, but absent a vaccine for COVID-19, there aren’t a lot of options to stop the viruses spread.

“I don’t know when wearing face coverings became a political statement, and I’m sorry that it has,” he said. “It hadn’t got anything to do with that. It’s just an effective way to keep people from transmitting the disease.

Strong has heard the criticisms as well.

“Well, you know, there’s people that believe they want to preserve their freedoms. If they don’t want to wear one, they don’t believe they should be made to wear one,” Strong said. “There are different dynamics today than we had a week ago, nevertheless 14 weeks ago.

Spillers said he wants more people to wear masks.

“I’m in favor, particularly if people are indoors that there be more stringent masking,” he said.

Stong said Alabama’s rising numbers make the point.

“You look at the mistakes of other states, we don’t want to make the same mistakes they’ve made. The mask has proven to be beneficial to the people of Madison County. In the study, or what we’ve done at the Madison County Commission for about four or five days people didn’t like it, but then you look back several weeks later and we’ve had no cases that we’ve tied to the Madison County Courthouse,” Strong said.

Spillers said if people want college football this fall, steps have to be taken.

“We can’t go back to normal without some protections in place,” he said. “That’s not going to work.”

Strong said what works should win.

“I believe in liberty also. The thing that we like to say is to say what does the data show — what does the data prove? And then present it to the people. It shouldn’t take a mask ordinance. It should take the data that’s there, present it to the people and say, ‘this is what has been best for our community.”

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