At the urging of medical experts and state hospitals, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday extended for another month the state’s mandatory mask requirement. And with the school year about to begin, she expanded it to include students in grades 2 and up.
“Y’all, we just must remain vigilant if we are going to get our kids back in school and keep our economy open. Wearing a mask can’t hurt, but it sure can help,” Ivey said.
There is some preliminary evidence that it is helping.
Dr. Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association, noted that in the past few days, the state has had a slight decrease in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases.
That comes as deaths, which are a lagging indicator, have continued to mount locally. As of Wednesday, Morgan County’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll was 14 and Limestone County’s was 11.
Some hospitals around the state are near capacity, dealing largely with patients who would have contracted the virus before Ivey announced the statewide mask mandate July 15.
Wearing a face covering helps protect others from the wearer if the wearer is contagious, even if the person wearing the mask shows no symptoms. Additionally, according to a growing body of evidence, masks probably help protect healthy wearers from infection. Ideally, a combination of wearing face coverings and widespread testing appear to offer the best chance of containing the coronavirus — until there is a vaccine.
Unfortunately, testing is still not widespread enough, and the lag between a person getting tested and receiving results in some cases renders the test useless. A person who is infected but asymptomatic could go on spreading the disease for days or a person who was not infected could become infected in the gap between the test and the results, resulting in a false sense of security.
Congress needs to push more resources into testing, and the Food and Drug Administration needs to remove some of the roadblocks in the way of getting tests in the field. Yet President Donald Trump, while he has finally given in on wearing a mask, remains opposed to increased testing, forcing Congress and his own administration to work around him.
On Wednesday, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, tested positive for the coronavirus. Gohmert is among the Republican members of Congress who have resisted wearing a mask. With the positive test result, Gohmert had to cancel a trip accompanying the president aboard Air Force One to Texas.
It’s worth noting that Gohmert was tested because there is rapid testing of people who are going to be in contact with President Trump. Had Gohmert not been scheduled to travel with the president, he might have continued on as an asymptomatic carrier, spreading the virus to others who might not be as lucky.
There are some people, especially on social media, who spread all sorts of wild claims about supposed dangers of wearing a mask. These are akin to people who used to claim that wearing a seat belt could be more dangerous in an accident than not wearing a seat belt. Neither claim has any scientific or statistical backing, and both fly in the face of common sense. Keep in mind, it is common in parts of Asia, especially Japan, for people who are sick with a cold or the flu to wear masks to avoid spreading their illness to others, and none of those people suffered any ill effects from wearing a mask.
As Gov. Ivey said, wearing a mask can’t hurt. And for the next month, it’s the law.