As COVID-19 cases continue to increase across the country, Lewis Pitchford says he wears a mask out in public when he goes to the store or he’s around other people in closed spaces. He says it is his choice.
“Wearing a mask should not be mandatory,” said Pitchford. “That goes against everything our country is about — freedom. If you don’t want to wear one, fine, and if you do, also fine. We don’t need more government control over our lives.”
In Madison County, residents are now required to wear a face covering in public in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“This is a simple math problem,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battles told AL.com. “Since June 16, the number of positive cases in Madison County has tripled, and the number of hospitalizations has increased 660%.”
Many local residents responded on the Sentinel’s Facebook page, saying the government should not be able to mandate people wearing a mask.
“I wouldn’t wear one if you paid me,” said Blake Ricker. “I figure we’ll all get it at some point if we haven’t already. I think it’s a freedom of choice to wear one or not.”
Scottsboro attorney Justin Lackey said the law is pretty clear that mask mandates are generally constitutional.
“The government of states has the legal power to make laws that require certain actions and prohibit certain actions for the safety of the community,” said Lackey. “The best comparison might be seat belt laws. Other examples are mandatory public health rules for restaurants such as employee hand washing and food temperatures.”
Jackson County Commission Chairman Tim Guffey said he spoke with Dr. Karen Landers, an assistant state health officer Tuesday morning.
“She recommended that Jackson County follow what was written for Madison County,” Guffey said.
Guffey said he was working on a policy for the county courthouse, but he planned to check with commissioners to see what they want to do about mandating wearing masks in public.
Scottsboro Mayor Robin Shelton said the city council could pass a resolution mandating citizens to wear a mask in public.
“I think we will need to get more input from our state health officer whether or not we should mandate that,” said Shelton. “I want to get more feedback from Dr. John Anderson at Highlands Medical Center.”
Teresa Logue Meeks said she’s sick of wearing masks.
“It shouldn’t be mandated,” she said. “If you want to wear one, please do. This was way overkill for a little virus. Watch, once the election is over, this will all go away. It’s just election year garbage. Nothing ever changes in America.”
Dr. Lonnie Albin, the chief medical officer at Highlands Medical Center, said a large number of the positive COVID-19 cases are people who are not showing any symptoms of the virus.
“By not having symptoms and not knowing you are positive, you could be spreading the virus to anyone within close proximity,” said Albin. “Wearing a mask helps to prevent this by containing the respiratory droplets from your mouth and nose, keeping them from landing on others. In other words, you are wearing a mask to protect other people in case you are a carrier of the virus.”
Many residents agreed with Albin, saying they wear a mask for the very reason.
“I do all I can to protect you,” said Carolyn Jeffery. “I think I deserve the same from you.”
“If everyone wore a mask, we’d have a lot fewer cases of the virus, and it would spread slower,” added James Guthrie.
Gov. Kay Ivey has previously said she will not issue a statewide face mask requirement, but several counties and municipalities, such as Madison County, have done so.
“Unfortunately, we are seeing that the government can make you stand on your head if they can convince you that it’s ‘for your safety,’” said Scottsboro attorney Seth Ashmore.
Ashmore said that, more than likely, the government can make you wear a mask, but it will have to be narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling interest.
“So the government wouldn’t be able to mandate a mask whenever someone is in public, regardless of the situation, but the government could put restrictions on wearing a mask such as being in close proximity to people.”
Ashmore said that while a governor or mayor or even a health officer may issue a proclamation mandating a mask, it would likely be struck down as illegal.
“I think this is the reason why [Attorney General] Steve Marshall hasn’t really come out with the hammer on enforcing the statewide governor’s orders,” said Ashmore. “Ultimately, it will require citizens to file suit to keep their constitutional rights intact, presumably after many people have already been cited and possibly jailed for their refusal.”
Legal or illegal, Albin said there are benefits for a person wearing a mask.
“Since the virus spreads person to person through respiratory droplets, wearing a mask could help to lessen the chance of your contacting the virus,” said Albin. “Respiratory droplets are emitted into the air whenever a person talks, coughs or sneezes. Because it covers your mouth and nose, it can prevent the fluids of other people from getting into those areas on your face, but keeping in mind that your eyes are still vulnerable. These droplets can also fall on your hands, and wearing a mask reminds you not to touch your face.”
Albin said there a few select groups or people who should not wear a mask, including children under the age of two, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
“Wearing a mask is like fastening your seatbelt,” said Cindy Shelton Milk. “Don’t be stupid, it saves lives.”
Staff writer Brad Nevels contributed to this story.