JeffCo Health Officer orders county-wide face covering rules while state plans to open schools

Face covering at the Shell Station on Highland Avenue in Birmingham. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson has issued an order requiring all people over the age of 8 to wear coverings inside businesses that are open to the public and while taking public transportation.

The order goes into effect on Monday, June 29th at 5:00 p.m.

Outdoor spaces are not covered by the mask order, except when more than 10 people gather outside, or when a person cannot maintain the social distancing rule of six feet between others.

Places of worship, schools and daycares are not included in the mask order. Schools and daycares are subject to guidelines set out by the state board of education and state public health department.

The order will stay in effect until the Health Officer determines if conditions in the county warrant a change in the order.

“The spread of COVID19 is getting worse in Jefferson County, unfortunately,” said Dr. Wilson. “Things are moving in the wrong direction.”

The new order will cover all Jefferson County municipalities, from Bessemer, Homewood, Gardendale, Irondale and the unincorporated areas. Birmingham’s present face covering ordinance will supersede the Health Department order until it expires on July 3rd.

According to Bama Tracker, Jefferson County added 294 COVID19 cases on June 25-26. Meanwhile, the state of Alabama added a total of 2093 (including the Jefferson County 294) on those two days.

“The benefit (of coverings) according to the institute of Health metrics and evaluation… we can potentially reduce the spread of COVID19 by 50%,” added Dr. Wilson. “To me, by a science standpoint, a medical standpoint, and public health standpoint it is an easy decision.”

Schools Plan to Reopen in August

Photo taken in April 2019, Birmingham Superintendent Lisa Herring, United Way CEO Drew Langloh and Alabama Superintendent of Public Schools Eric Mackey. Photo courtesy of United Way of Central Alabama

In other COVID19 news, earlier in the day Alabama State Superintendent Eric Mackey  announced plans to open the state’s K-12 schools, by unveiling Alabama’s “Roadmap to Reopening Schools.” 

The Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) created an FAQ to help guide parents and families. Here is the Q&A.

Are the ALSDE recommendations mandatory?

ALSDE recognizes that all recommended guidance will not be possible in all settings and should be amended based on the needs of each school system and school as appropriate.

Will campuses reopen for in-person instruction?

Yes, the expectation is for Alabama campuses to reopen for traditional learning this fall.

Montgomery Alabama
Photo by: Pat Byington of the Alabama State Capitol

Who will determine if my local campus stays open?

Local Boards of Education, upon the recommendation of their superintendents and in consultation with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and/or local public health officials, will make determinations about specific changes in campus status throughout the year.

What are some things that might be different on campuses?

Local school systems set day-to-day policies and procedures. Communications around when and if facial coverings should be worn, for example, will come directly from your local school system. Students may expect to see changes in physical distancing, increased sanitization, and personal hygiene while on campuses.

What kind of precautions will schools have to take?

A portion of the essential guidance will require enhanced cleaning and sanitization and that all schools designate an area of quarantine for students who become ill at school.

What remote learning opportunities might be available?

In Alabama’s model, local school systems are responsible for developing and implementing policies and procedures around each of these three instructional scenarios. The State has committed to offer remote learning resources through a third-party curriculum developer as well as to expand the high school ACCESS program to all school systems. It is the recommendation of ALSDE that all school systems provide access to both traditional and remote options throughout the 2020-2021 school year.

What if I do not have Internet at home?

Local school systems are continuing to inventory Internet accessibility for students. The results of this inventory can provide insights on how students can have internet connectivity throughout the state. ALSDE and school systems are diligently advocating for Internet connectivity for all students.

What can I do to help?

HOME is the first point on the screening continuum. School systems should educate and support families on identifying the symptoms that indicate staff and students must stay at home. Families should be encouraged to self-report symptoms of illness, which could include fever, new onset of cough, etc. Self-reporting mechanisms could include calling the school or calling your health-care provider

What is being done to close the digital divide for Alabama’s students?

ALSDE continues to work with state leaders to secure funding and additional opportunities for expansion of broadband infrastructure. Many school systems have already invested in innovative tactics to close the digital divide by purchasing devices. ALSDE is providing best practices as examples to school systems, distributed funds, and is providing a remote/digital curriculum to all school systems.

Will extracurricular activities be allowed?

Yes, we will continue to work with school systems to provide best practices for off-campus field trips, etc. We also continue to share the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s guidance for sports.

Birmingham’s Ramsay High School Girls’ Basketball team. Photo by Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

Read the Plan

Want to read the plan?  Here it is.

Parent’s Guide to Alabama’s Roadmap to Reopening Schools

Stay tuned

Check back regularly with Bham Now for updates about the new face covering rules in Jefferson County and the state’s school reopening plans. Remember, we are all in this together.

  • Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.