Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, repeatedly stressed the importance of wearing masks and voiced support for statewide mandatory mask orders during a livestreamed Q&A session with Alabama Sen. Doug Jones on Tuesday.
"I do believe a statewide mask order is important because there is variability in people taking seriously or even understanding the benefit of masks," said Fauci. "Masks make a difference. It is one of the primary, fundamental tools that we have, particularly ... because a considerable number of individuals, up to 40 percent, do not have any symptoms and yet they still can transmit the infection. And for that reason, we should all be wearing masks when we're out in public, particularly when we can't negotiate the distance between ourselves and others in public."
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declined to issue a mandatory statewide mask order last week, saying it was unenforceable. Instead, she just encouraged the wearing of masks and voiced support for counties to take their own measures. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall also indicated that counties and municipalities have the authority to craft and enforce mask ordinances.
The Auburn City Council will meet online in a special-called meeting to discuss a possible mask ordinance after numerous residents voiced support for it during Tuesday night's council meeting.
Auburn Mayor Ron Anders said he would reach out to the Lee County Commission Chairman and Probate Judge Bill English as well as Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller to discuss the issue before the council meets this week to see if they could coordinate responses. Ward 3 Councilwoman Beth Witten said the city council should be prepared to pursue the issue on its own.
The call for a local mask ordinance comes as Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations at EAMC have sharply increased in recent weeks. As of Wednesday, EAMC and EAMC-Lanier reported 38 patients hospitalized with Covid-19, up from 22 a week ago. Confirmed cases in Lee County also continued to rise, with roughly 32 percent of the county's 1,4363 cases coming in the last two weeks.
The state of Alabama has also seen a dramatic increase in Covid-19 transmission, with about 30 percent of the state's 45,263 cases coming in the last two weeks.
The upward slope of cases in Alabama is alarming and could enter an exponential phase if actions aren't taken to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, said Fauci.
"You have a window of opportunity here," he said. "You're not there yet, so you have an opportunity, a window to get your arms around this and prevent it from getting worse.
"It's not to the point where it's out of hand and ... very difficult to control, so you have an opportunity here."
Multiple counties and municipalities, including Montgomery and Tuscaloosa, have enacted mask ordinances.
Multiple residents expressed the need to get the local Covid-19 situation under control before more Auburn University students are expected to arrive for fall semester classes. The university recently announced that wearing masks would be required in public buildings on campus.
"The fall semester at Auburn University begins on Aug. 17," said Annie Campbell, a professor at the university who recited an open letter signed by more than 150 residents to the mayor and council at Tuesday's meeting. "This means that we have less than six weeks to slow the spread of the virus before students return to campus.
"It is our responsibility to act now in order to avoid disaster later. We ask you to think of your friends and neighbors and take appropriate measures to protect not just yourselves, but all of us. If we are truly in this together, we need to act as a community."
Anton DiSclafani, an assistant professor at Auburn University, also shared a petition signed by more than 1,100 residents with the council.
"We ask you to require members of Auburn's community to wear masks when they're indoors in public spheres or outdoors when they cannot maintain six feet of distance," she said. "It's a simple solution to a terrible problem.
"It's said often that local politics are the politics that matter most to citizens, and I don't know that I've ever felt this so keenly until this moment. It is unsafe right now to be in public in this community ...."
Anders and Councilman Kelley Griswold also noted that the council received multiple messages from residents opposed to a mask ordinance.