Fairhope council opposes face mask ordinance

Council President Jack Burrell tests positive for COVID-19


FAIRHOPE – City Council members, including the president isolated after testing positive for COVID-19, rejected a proposal to require face masks in public, but encourage the practice.

During the July 13 meeting, City Council President Jack Burrell, took part from home over an internet connection. Burrell said he was isolating himself after family members tested positive for COVID-19.

“We received the results back and my wife and I both tested positive for COVID-19, so we are now in our 16th or 17th day of quarantine,” Burrell said. “The first member of my household, a child, they have since tested negative and have been released and I myself I do meet the Alabama Department of Public Health guidelines for being able to return to work, however, I think in my position I think it would be prudent to get a negative test before I return to the public. I had a test taken earlier today and I will await the results.”

During the work session before the meeting, Mayor Karin Wilson asked the council to consider an ordinance to require that people in Fairhope wear face masks in public. Wilson said that between June 12 and July 3 the number of confirmed cases more than doubled and the growth is continuing.

“Thomas Hospital advises that the percentage of positive results out of the total tested has gone from around 2.4 percent in the beginning of June steadily increasing and today is between 10 and 12 percent,” Wilson said. “They averaged three to four people being treated for COVID in the hospital pre-June and today in the hospital is 17.”

Wilson said information provided to the city by the Alabama Department of Public Health showed that the number of cases in Fairhope went from 84 on June 25 to 133 on July 3. During the week of July 6 to 12, coronavirus cases increased another 46 percent, she said.

She said Fairhope could set an example for other communities.

“I do think that Fairhope has been leading the way also with making decisions first as far as Baldwin County,” Wilson said.

Burrell said he supported encouraging people to wear masks, but did not think a city requirement would work.

“I do think that it is important that we urge the public to wear a mask when you can’t properly social distance and wear a mask when you’re in the public where you have to be near people,” Burrell said. “I do understand that there are people that can’t wear masks for maybe health reasons and it’s not healthy for you to wear a mask, so I do understand that. I’m not for mandating that our citizens wear masks. I’m not for passing an ordinance, but I am for encouraging you when you can and when you can’t socially distance to wear masks in public and I will do my best to follow my own advice.”

Councilman Jay Robinson also said people should wear masks, but he would vote against a mandatory ordinance.

“I think we should strongly encourage people to wear masks, especially in situations where they cannot social distance, but to mandate or make it a law of some sort that is unenforceable just feels like laws for the sake of having a law,” Robinson said. “When we truly can’t, don’t intend to police it and that’s really where it falls into the no category for me.”

Councilman Jimmy Conyers said the council should take action encourage, but not require, residents to wear masks.

“I would recommend maybe we pass a resolution or something to that effect just saying we encourage people to do it and then try to lead by example, but I think to mandate to where we’re either not going to enforce it or put us in some awkward positions trying to enforce it, I think I would just stop a little short of that, but I do think people ought to be wearing masks and taking this seriously,” Conyers said.

Dr. Bill Goetter addressed the council for the Baldwin County Medical Society. He said masks will help to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“If everybody in the United States put on a mask and wore it for four weeks, you’d see the numbers drop dramatically and we could be like Denmark in a very short period of time,” Goetter said. “I’m not asking for an ordinance. I’m just asking that we do what we can do.”