Alabama’s best chance at reversing its upward trend of COVID-19 cases is not to shut down again, but to get more serious about wearing masks in public, social distancing and sheltering in place whenever possible, said a Birmingham infectious diseases expert on Thursday.
Shutting down in March and April was like doing a sprint, said Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases.
“We are now in a marathon,” Marrazzo said. “This is not going to go away any time soon, so we’ve got to figure out ways to work through this that do not cripple us socially, economically, psychologically and emotionally.”
Sen. Doug Jones, who held the press conference, said the state needs to “re-up our game when it comes to education for people” rather than returning to restrictions, although he said the choice is Gov. Kay Ivey’s.
The state’s increasing cases are likely due to people becoming more and more relaxed about social distancing and other safety measures since Memorial Day, Marrazzo said. The holiday preceded a spike in cases, but health officials are seeing a steady increase since that spike, she said.
She dismissed the idea that mutations in the virus are responsible for its continued spread.
“This is almost certainly on us. We are giving the virus more opportunity to jump from person to person,” Marrazzo said.
She strongly dispelled a rumor that wearing a mask can increase a person’s chances of getting a bacterial or viral infection. People may be confusing that with the possibility of contaminating a mask when exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19, she said. That can happen if a person touches a surface with the virus and then touches their mask, but the mask poses no extra risk.
Reducing cases will not rely on the law because it is not easily enforced, Marrazzo said. It will rely on the honor system.
“It really comes down to everyone’s realization that we can change the trajectory of this epidemic,” she said.
Jones called on leaders in business, faith communities and every other sector of society to set an example by wearing masks publicly, like he is.
“We can’t afford to see the steep increase from where we are, after July Fourth just like we saw the steep increases after Memorial Day,” Jones said.