Madison requires masks in City Hall as COVID-19 cases spike in region
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The north Alabama city of Madison today began requiring visitors to City Hall and other city offices to wear masks after COVID-19 cases spiked in North Alabama.

a man standing in front of a television: Madison Mayor Paul Finley, left; Jeff Birdwell, director of the Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency; and Dr. Karen Landers, assistant state health director brief north Alabama on the COVID-19 situation on June 26, 2020.

Madison Mayor Paul Finley told a media briefing that North Alabama’s numbers are “very, very challenging.” In the past two weeks, he said hospitalizations have gone up 56 percent from 39 to 87, confirmed cases in Madison County up 50 percent from 428 to 864; and number of people quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19 up 440 percent from 85 to 375.

Finley said the quarantine number “hit me the hardest” and led to the mask rule. “A lot of it is because we need to take care of our own house…,” Finley said of his government. “We highly recommend that businesses do the same thing…. You’re finally going to know somebody who has this.”

Madison is a city of 50,000 adjacent to Huntsville. Many of the engineers who work at NASA or Redstone Arsenal and for the area’s tech companies live in the city with their families.

But “not yet” was the answer from both Finley and State Health Department Assistant Director Dr. Karen Landers when asked if people should be required to wear masks, too. “It may get to that point; you can see these numbers rising,” Finley said. “Then it comes down to enforcement. Who’s going to enforce it, at what level do we enforce it and where do we enforce it?”

Some people say “flat out, ‘I will not wear a mask,’” Finley said. Enforcing a mask rule in today’s social environment “would not be positive for our community,” the mayor said.

Landers agreed that the state is divided on masks. For every letter she gets that says “mask,” Landers said she gets one “that says absolutely don’t mask.”

But Finley said businesses can require masks for entry. “You can control yourself, you can control your family and you can control your business,” he said. “We highly recommend that businesses do the same thing. It could impact your bottom line.”

What could change the officials’“not yet” on requiring masks? “If the hospitals get overburdened, we’ll do it,” Finley predicted. And if local governments require masks, failing to wear one would mean a citation like a traffic ticket. “You’re not going to take somebody that’s not wearing a mask and put them in jail,” Finley said.

Landers told the briefing that a technical team from the national Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta is in Alabama this week advising the health department. The CDC will help the state streamline its reporting of cases and develop county data. “I know that has been a long time coming,” she said.

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©2020 Alabama Media Group, Birmingham

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