Luverne City Council passes mask ordinance

Published 3:00 pm Thursday, June 25, 2020

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The bulk of last Monday’s Luverne city council meeting was discussion between two Luverne doctors, father and son Dr. Pat Walker and Dr. Patrick Walker, the council and Mayor Ed Beasley.

The Walkers attended the meeting to offer the council a breakdown on statistics and the current status of local healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic and to encourage the council to adopt a face mask ordinance.

Dr. Patrick Walker communicated data to attempt to prove to the council the vast difference the wearing of masks has made in the spread of COVID-19 in other regions.

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“We [had] about 30% of the population wearing masks, and with that small amount of mask usage along with heavy mask usage in the assisted living facilities, the nursing home and the hospital, we allowed ourselves with limited seeds in our rural area to not let [the disease] get out of control like the rest of the areas around us have,” Dr. Patrick Walker began.

He went on to state that although his data suggests lockdowns themselves are not effective in curtailing the virus unless hospitals are overwhelmed, the lightening of the state regulations by Gov. Kay Ivey, “almost seemed to push the population into a nonchalance that is very dangerous.”

“We’ve gone down to probably a 10 percent mask usage in this area. You can see it from our active cases over the last three weeks; we’re talking about almost a 100 percent increase. We got to an activity rate of 42 cases over the course of a 14-day period, and I think we’re in the high 20’s [as of Monday.] The hospital has been on diversion during June twice, meaning it cannon handle with the nursing staff is has, any more patients. That happened twice over the course of ten days,” Walker said.

Walker went on to say there “is nowhere to transfer patients to,” referencing the currently overwhelmed medical system in Montgomery.

“Thankfully, we discharged a couple COVID patients [Monday]. We have room for three COVID patients and no other patients right now,” he continued.

Walker went on to go over his efforts to communicate the importance of and encourage mask usage, but said that with the levels of current mask usage that an official enacting of public mask usage is necessary.

He went to reference mask usage in countries that have had a fraction of the cases of Alabama, much less the United States, due to widespread mask wearing.

“Taiwan has 24 million people. It has had 1100 cases and seven deaths, and did not shut down their country for a second. They enacted pandemic response immediately. Hong Kong has around 9 million people, a heavily populated city prefecture… They’ve had 1100 cases total, fewer than 10 deaths. But these are advanced mask-using countries.… Austria, a country with just a touch below 9 million people- double the population of Alabama but three-times more dense than Alabama, so we have the advantage there. We’re looking at a ninety-percent reduction in their case load in two weeks after they went to mandatory mask usage for the entire country,” he explained.

He went on to explain that Germany went to the same protocol in May. Germany had 495 cases total as of Monday. Alabama alone has over 30,000 cases as of Wednesday morning, while the United States has over 2 million confirmed cases and over 120,000 deaths as of Wednesday.

City council members, based on this and additional data and recommendations given by the doctors, decided to move forward with discussing a mask ordinance.

The council originally discussed a possible mask ordinance earlier in the pandemic  at the urging of EMA director and council member Elliot Jones but decided not to do it. Now, particularly with Montgomery’s recent mask ordinance as an example, they more fully considered the possibility.

The council went over several possibilities before unanimously accepting a proposal offered by council member Dr. Edward Billings.

“I don’t like doing something like this because I have a streak of libertarianism because when you start that, the government may not know when to end it. But I have two of the three doctors in the town, doctors I respect, telling me to do it. I don’t like making this motion or wearing this mask… and I think if they’re asking, I have to take it seriously,” Billings said.

The ordinance as passed was worded as follows within the Luverne city council meeting, following Montgomery’s ordinance:

Masks/facial coverings are mandatory in public places where there are groups of 10 or more people. Businesses have the option to require customers to wear masks.

The ordinance will be re-examined in the last meeting in July.