At its meeting on Tuesday night, the Auburn City Council passed a resolution in support of the statewide mandatory mask requirement that went into effect last week.
The mandate went into effect at 5 p.m. last Thursday. It will stay in effect until July 31, when the current Safer at Home order is set to expire. Masks or other facial coverings must cover the nostrils and mouth at all times, according to the amended health order.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey made the move to require masks statewide in response to a continuing surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in Alabama.
As of Wednesday morning, Alabama has had more than 70,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with about 33 percent of the state's cases since the outbreak began in mid-March coming in the last 14 days. Alabama has also seen 8,538 patients hospitalized with Covid-19 and an increasing number of deaths, with 1,325 currently confirmed. The state is consistently adding more than 1,000 new cases a day over the past two weeks.
Lee County has also seen a surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations at EAMC. As of Wednesday morning, about 30 percent of Lee County's 2,117 confirmed cases have come in the last 14 days. Hospitalizations at EAMC and EAMC-Lanier reached a new peak this week, hitting 62 patients on Wednesday from a previous high of 54 on April 11.
"We're almost to the point where our hospital ICUs are overwhelmed," said Ivey. "Folks, the numbers just do not lie."
The move comes after the Big 10 Mayors, a group made up of mayors from the state's 10 most populous cities, called on the governor to issue a statewide mask order. Multiple counties and cities, including Tuscaloosa and Montgomery, had enacted ordinances requiring residents to wear masks.
"You should wear a mask when you're in public and when you're close to other people," said Dr. Scott Harris.
Alabama citizens must wear a mask when within six feet of another person in an indoor space open to the public, in a vehicle operated by a transportation service, and in an outdoor public space where 10 or more people are gathered. The penalty for a violation is $500 and/or jail time, although that is not the goal, Ivey said.
"Simply, the right thing to do is wear a mask," she said, adding that she is not directing law enforcement to impose fines. Ivey also added that if things do not improve and get worse a Stay at Home order could potentially be issued again.
There are five categories of exceptions, including for children 6 years old or younger, for people with certain medical conditions or disabilities, for people who are eating or drinking or seated at a restaurant, for people undergoing medical or dental procedures, for people exercising at a gym or athletic facility provided they are following the six-foot distance guideline, among other exceptions.
That the current Safer at Home order, including the mask mandate, expires on July 31 concerned some City Council members, who want the city to pursue its own mask mandate and have it ready in case the statewide mandate is not extended. Auburn Mayor Ron Anders said he would reach out to Ivey's office in the coming days to inquire about her plans.
Auburn City Manager Jim Buston reminded the council that any local mask ordinance would have to be approved by the Alabama Department of Public Health.