D200714 mask ordinance

Customer Queenester Burgess, left, cashier Carol Gillespie and other customers wear masks inside Holaway’s Foodland on Monday, the day a Decatur ordinance requiring face coverings took effect. [JERONIMO NISA/DECATUR DAILY]

As some retailers expressed skepticism about enforcing a Decatur mask ordinance that took effect Monday, area health officials expressed concern over rapidly increasing coronavirus infections and how those numbers will strain hospital resources in coming weeks.

“It’s going to take a while for the masking policy to have an impact,” said David Spillers, CEO of the Huntsville Hospital Health System, which includes Decatur Morgan and Athens-Limestone hospitals and Lawrence Medical Center. “We didn’t have (mandatory) masking for Fourth of July; we all expect an additional increase in cases for the next couple of weeks off of the Fourth of July.”

Some Decatur businesses began enforcing the ordinance over the weekend. Others were gearing up for implementation during the day Monday.

“We’ll follow city guidelines. It’s not of our choosing. We’ll follow what they say. We have to. We have a Decatur business license,” said Charles Christopher, store manager at Martin’s Family Clothing Store.

Others were not planning to require customers to wear masks, a stance that could attract the attention of the Decatur Police Department.

“We won’t be policing our customers on wearing masks,” said Zion Shreve, Electronic Express store manager. “It’s their responsibility to wear masks and follow the ordinance. Our employees have been wearing masks for about a month and I’d say about 80% of our customers come in the store already with a mask on. … If somebody comes in without a mask, we won’t turn them away.”

Greg Ward, Holaway’s Foodland store director, also said his store will not enforce the City Council mandate.

“We’ll post notifications on the doors urging customers to wear masks as the ordinance mandates. But we know some customers won’t wear a mask,” Ward said, noting that most customers and all employees already wear face coverings. “… We’re not going to police the masks. It will be too difficult to do that.

“We don’t want to step on anybody’s toes.”

Police Chief Nate Allen said he was encouraging businesses to put up signs advising customers of the ordinance and asking that they not enter without a mask.

If a business chooses not to enforce the ordinance, Allen said police would contact the business owner.

“We want to first educate them on the ordinance, actually give them a warning on it, and tell them the repercussions that come from them not enforcing it, such as a loss of business license and something of that nature,” Allen said at a news conference Monday.

Individuals violating the ordinance will first receive information on the ordinance, then receive a formal warning and, on a third offense, will receive a citation, Allen said. The fine for those receiving citations is up to $500.

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Infections rising

In the meantime, infections are increasing rapidly in Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone counties.

Fifty-nine Morgan County residents tested positive for COVID-19 in the 24 hours through Monday morning, according to Alabama Department of Public Health data. That was the third highest number of new cases reported in a day for Morgan County, with the highest — 69 — on Sunday. Five Morgan County residents have died from the disease, according to ADPH, and 1,397 residents have tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Decatur Morgan Hospital remained near its peak COVID-19 hospitalizations with 26 confirmed COVID-19 patients Monday, including four in intensive care and one on a ventilator. Another 10 patients were awaiting test results.

Lawrence County had 10 new cases reported Monday, second only to Sunday when ADPH reported 11 newly confirmed cases among Lawrence County residents.

ADPH on Monday reported 26 new COVID-19 cases among Limestone County residents, bringing that county's total to 665. Three Limestone County residents have been confirmed by ADPH as having died from the disease, and a fourth death believed to be caused by the disease is under evaluation.

Statewide, 1,860 new positive coronavirus tests were reported Monday, the second highest since the pandemic began, bringing the total to 54,768. The highest one-day count for the state came Thursday, when 2,164 new cases were reported. Three new COVID-19 deaths were reported Monday, bringing the number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the state to 1,096.

Judy Smith, administrator of the Alabama Department of Public Health’s Northern District, said the increasing numbers are a serious concern.

“We’re going the wrong way on a one-way street,” Smith said Monday. “We really had hoped that Fourth of July weekend and the continued opening up would not have the impact that it did. But it looks like it’s going to be pretty devastating. There’s nothing we can do about that now except learn from that experience and hope it doesn’t happen again.”

Smith said ADPH notifies first responders of homes known to have residents with active coronavirus infections, so they know to use personal protective equipment if responding to a call. As of Monday, she said, there were about 600 such homes in Morgan County.

Smith said she was worried about the increasing number of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“We’re not in dire straits right now, but if we don’t do something we could be in dire straits,” Smith said.

She said she expects the Decatur mask ordinance passed last week by the City Council and signed by the mayor to help reduce hospitalizations.

“It was a tremendously tough decision. There are more tough decisions to come, but I commend this city for doing what it could do to take care of the people in this city,” Smith said.

Spillers said the uptick in cases throughout the Huntsville Health System and the state is causing problems, and he expects those problems to worsen as some of the recently infected people need hospitalization.

He said COVID-19 patients require more staffing than other patients, and that’s increasingly challenging because many hospital workers throughout the system must stay home because they’ve tested positive or have been exposed to the virus and are awaiting test results. He also worries that supplies of remdesivir, a drug he said has shown some success with COVID-19 patients, will fall short.

“The issue with COVID patients … is they consume a lot of resources,” Spillers said. “They consume additional staffing. As this grows in the community, we’re going to have more staff that are out sick. At some point, it’s going to impact people’s ability to get into the system for other things that might happen. People are still having heart attacks and car wrecks and strokes and all these other health care issues, and they need to be able to get into the hospital to get health care.”

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eric@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2435. Twitter @DD_Fleischauer.

(19) comments

Fed Up

My father and since his retirement, I have owned a business in Decatur since 1970. My father and i both agree this is the dumbest "law" the COD has passed in the last 50 years. If Mr. Kirby is so smart, why is he no longer associated with his family business who has been around longer than mine?

Chuck Johns

Those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.

Sam Cat

AMEN!!!

JP Bama

Maybe I missed it ,but I didn't see anything in the ordinance about business owners or employees duty to enforcing mask wearing other than posting a sign at the entrance. I read that law enforcement would be the ones to police and issue warnings and citations to people. I don't recall seeing anything about risks of losing business licenses.

Chuck Johns

The city is holding the licenses hostage to get the business operators to do the enforcing.

Sam Cat

If you are 150% truly concerned for your safety then STAY HOME!! That is the ONLY guarantee you have to avoid this virus. If you leave the house for any reason you are putting yourself at risk and hence are not 150% onboard to protect yourself.

Clinton Herbert

This is simply false. Stories exist where people who stayed at home during lock down still got he virus. Besides, we can not stay at home, period. We have to work, and do other everyday tasks.

Chuck Johns

Very WELL SAID !!

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Sam Cat

People on lockdown who has visitors run the same risk as leaving the house. But what you said is spot on . . "we cannot stay home" . . . we will have to face this virus head on at some point or our society and economy will implode and we will all perish from starvation or social unrest.

Clinton Herbert

I was out this morning at Mapco on the Beltline. Only a few were wearing a mask including myself. Such disregard for others. I don't quite get how wearing a mask is so difficult for folks to do. Flabbergasted. I've even heard of talks of others that will take their business to Hartselle or Priceville because they do not have a mask ordinance. Shame on these people.

Chuck Johns

Go to the CDC website and read the mortality numbers yourself. You'll see how much disregard the media and politicians have for YOU.

Fed Up

Congratulations Hartselle, you received all my tax dollars yesterday as i visited Lowes, Wal-Mart, and Kroger in your city. No mask required.

Chuck Johns

Unfortunately, we will have to hurt our local businesses in order to bring our local government under control. This "ordinance" was declared by our "masters" at city hall. As I recall, we live in a constitutional republic, and not a banana republic. If you believe our occupants of city hall are out of control, shop in some other city. Eventually, the lack of revenue from sales tax may show them the light. I, for one, will shop elsewhere from this moment on even if I have to wear a mask in Hartselle, Athens, or Madison. This is about control, and these sub-humans at city hall need to learn that they have over-stepped their bounds.

Clinton Herbert

Are you out of your mind? Control? Really? There is a virus within our community. You must be a part of the "herd" movement.

Chuck Johns

Go to the CDC website and analyze the real numbers yourself. Let your own eyes and math skills show you the lie.

Clinton Herbert

I don't need numbers to show me that people around me are getting the virus, some very sick. I also have friends that work in the medical industry, and their stories don't always have a happy ending. Stop/slow the spread. It's simple logic.

Chuck Johns

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/COVID19/index.htm

Frances Elam

Thank you for thinking of shopping in Hartselle, we appreciate the good people of Decatur because as outsiders looking at Decatur most citizens of Hartselle realize how difficult it has been with the leadership there. No, we do not have a mask ordinance and yes we are a small community and have shown no high number breakouts of the virus. With that being said, Hartselle as a community understands the freedoms of the Constitution and it is the discretion of those who choose to wear a mask or not. Employees of businesses wear masks and majority of those who go into businesses do and have not seen large numbers infected. People as a whole here use common sense and the leadership here supports the community.

Chuck Johns

Thank you Frances Elam and Hartselle !!! Expect to see more Decatur folk shopping and dining in Hartselle.

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