Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson has now joined a long line of local, state and national politicians, as he has begun a more concerted effort to recommend residents wear face coverings or masks while out in public.
“‘In public’ means a lot of things,” he said. “I don’t mean when you’re in a park with no one around you. I’m talking about if you’re going into establishments or you’re doing your shopping.”
While the city has advocated masks be worn in public in the past, and the Mobile City Council has previously passed a resolution recommending the practice, Stimpson himself called it a “pivot” to recommend the wearing of masks more frequently.
The change is based upon guidance from the Unified Command, made up of Stimpson, County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood and Mobile County Health Officer Bert Eichold.
“So, regarding that, the Unified Command in our conversations this week and toward the latter part of last week, we uniformly decided in our messaging we should all continue to encourage the use of masks when you’re in public,” Stimpson said. “So, yes that is a pivot to supporting that unified effort.”
There is at least one reason Stimpson said he believes it’s important to remind residents about the mask-wearing. For one, he said, if masks are effective against disease transmission, residents need to wear them to avoid another “peak” in infections. The mayor did say he “has no idea” if masks actually prevent transmission, though.
“I’m like every other citizen,” Stimpson said. “I read the same things you read. I hear the same things you hear. It’s a best guess.”
However, he did add that masks serve as a “reminder to everybody that the disease is still out there.”
In a video press briefing toward the end of May, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones urged Alabamians to wear masks or face coverings in public as the state opens up. He said the state needed to open up when it did, but urged residents to take precautions in order to open the economy up safely.
“The ‘safely’ part, I’m not sure people are taking seriously,” he told reporters over Facebook Live. “Opening up is not inconsistent with what we should be doing to protect others and ourselves. The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] reopening plan addresses social distancing, hand-washing and wearing masks. It’s very important.”
When it comes to following guidelines and recommendations to help keep those in the community safe, Jones said he understands some simply don’t want to be told what to do. However, he believes it needs to be a part of everyday life, at least right now.
“If we could just get people used to it,” he said. “If we could do that, I think it will be fine.”
As for the wearing of masks and social distancing becoming a political issue, Jones told folks to “please get over it.”
“It is not a political issue,” he said. “People need to understand that their health is dependent upon their neighbors’ health and their neighbors’ health is dependent upon them. It is not [political]; it’s your health.”
Stimpson acknowledged the importance of masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for residents of nursing homes, as more than half of the county’s 118 deaths were connected to those types of facilities.
“We all know a lot more energy and resources need to be focused on nursing homes and assisted living and the elderly,” he said. “Never having been faced with something like this, the PPE — the personal protective equipment — was just completely inadequate. So, what you do going forward as a nursing operator, you would stock up on PPE and it’s going to be interesting four months from now or into the future to see which nursing homes, you know, did well and which ones didn’t do so well. There’s a lot that comes back to just management.”
While nobody can predict with certainty whether COVID-19 or the coronavirus that causes it will come back in the fall, Stimpson believes if it does, the state, city and nursing homes will be better prepared to deal with it.
“Let’s just say six months from now there will be more PPE available,” he said. “There will be more people who understand it’s not to be taken lightly and that you’ve got to develop protocols and you’ve got to adhere to them.”
Stimpson’s “pivot” on the masks comes as the health department and the city seem to be working together more and hammering out issues related to COVID-19. Early on, Stimpson himself admitted the three entities that make up the Unified Command weren’t working together successfully. Although the group could’ve done more to work together early on, he feels the relationship is in a better place now and the entire Unified Command has stepped up to the challenge in responding to the pandemic.
“If you go back to the beginning, there’s three organizations that typically work autonomously from the other two,” he said. “You’re thrown in a crisis and throw them all together to work as a team, that’s a recipe where there’s going to be friction.
“It’s just natural,” Stimpson added. “I think that given where we are today. Whereas we’ve aired out our differences and recognize our strengths.”
In addition to better preparing nursing homes in the future, for the first time Stimpson blames some of the city’s Mardi Gras festivities for the influx of COVID-19 cases.
“I believe the spread was happening earlier in Mobile because of Mardi Gras,” he said. “I initially didn’t believe that, but I do now.”
He used surges being shown in Montgomery and Tuscaloosa as some of the reasoning behind his thoughts.
“If you look at what’s happening in Tuscaloosa and Montgomery in the last week, I think that you’re going to see a rising — see an increase in numbers in some of these other cities and it may be we were just ahead of them in the spread of the disease,” he said. “That’s conjecture on my part. We can’t statistically show you that.”
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