DEKALB COUNTY, Ala. – As severe storms that produced tornadoes made its way through Boaz en route to DeKalb County, residents made their way to nearby storm shelters. Only, not all families were allowed inside.
One Crossville family, who would like to stay anonymous, not wanting to cause trouble in their small town, was denied entry because they didn’t have enough face masks, which is a recommendation to protect people from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The recommendation is not a law. Each county and each city has make their own decisions. Some shelters are not open at all. Others are requiring a mask.
“The guy actually opened the door, he motioned, do you have a mask? I held up my mask. I said I have one mask, I can put it on the child. He motioned no and shut the door,” said one woman as she tried to enter the shelter in Crossville.
Left in the pouring down rain, with a tornado over Boaz, the family ran to their car.
“Actually twice trying to get somewhere, we nearly wrecked. I just wanted to squall all the way home. I had to keep it together you know?” said the woman.
WHNT inquired explained the situation to DeKalb County EMA. We were told the family probably should have been allowed in, given the incoming tornado. However, EMA offices do not get to make those decisions. The municipality makes and enforces the rules.
The woman claims the shelter was not full and she could have maintained 6-foot distance away from the other people in the shelter.
Crossville Mayor, Tera Fortenberry posted of Facebook, warning her community about the face-covering policy.
Part of the post read: “The storm shelter will OPEN Sunday April 12th at 11am— With the current COVID-19 Virus pandemic– Please try to remain calm and keep your distance as much as possible. YOU ARE ENTERING AT YOUR OWN RISK. Everyone has to wear a mask to be allowed to enter. (Homemade mask, medical masks or a bandana tied to cover your nose and mouth is acceptable)”
The woman who was denied entry did not see the social media post. She does not use Facebook often. Which is a reminder, that people should check on their neighbors during this pandemic. Not everyone is getting the same rapid information. DeKalb County EMA agrees, check on your grandparents and elderly neighbors. Make sure they know the latest guidelines.
If you can’t make a mask, any face covering will do.
After we aired the story, someone donated masks to the town.
Crossville Mayor Tera Fortenberry released a statement Thursday that read:
I have been made aware of the recent allegations that an individual(s) was refused entry into the storm shelter because the individual(s) did not have a mask for their personal protection. Unlike some news organizations and individuals, I began investigating and gathering information from witnesses who heard and saw the exchange between the employee and the citizen, first-hand.
First and foremost, the employee was only following the instructions that I had posted on Saturday that explained when the shelter would be open and that some type of face mask (anything that covered the nose and mouth was acceptable) would be required to be worn in order to enter the storm shelter due to the threat of COVID-19. I gave those exact same instructions to the manager of the storm shelter. Please note, this information was made available the day prior to the storms, in hope that everyone would have ample opportunity to secure whatever face masks they needed. It is also important to note that the storm shelters maximum capacity is 110 people. That translates to it being impossible to safely social distance inside the shelter during severe weather.
Second, the individual(s) was not turned away. She was asked if she had a mask. She said no. Then, she turned and walked away, angrily. The shelter manager immediately got donated face mask from inside the shelter and went out into the storm to try and give her the masks and get the individual(s) inside. He could not find her. The door was never slammed in her face. In fact, the door was not even closed until she was already walking away.
Again, she was never turned away. I, as the mayor of the Town of Crossville, was never asked about the alleged incident until much later. Neither was the shelter manager. Neither were any of the witnesses from the shelter.
Due to donations, we have extra masks for the shelter should a situation like this one arise again. We are thankful for those donations but are prayerful that we will not need them.
Lastly, I am not immune to all of the opinions being tossed around about this situation or my response to it. I have been working to collect all the facts so that I could form the correct and best response to this situation. My conclusion is that my instructions were followed, and she was not turned away. She was angered by a question and she chose to leave without giving the shelter manager the opportunity to provide her with a mask and bring her inside. The importance of the mask can not be understated in this situation. My office has just been made aware that a person in the shelter on Sunday night has tested positive for COVID-19. The person who tested positive did have a face mask on the entire time she was in the shelter.Mayor Tera L. Fortenberry