FLORENCE — Local officials went back to basics Monday during a COVID-19 update, pleading with the public to follow the recommended safety measures.
Time and again they stressed the importance of wearing a mask in public, thoroughly washing your hands and social distancing. They also expressed concern that the public may be getting lax on preventative measures with the pandemic now dragging on into summer.
Dr. Karen Landers, area health officer for the state health department, said the safety measures are the best way to battle the pandemic, adding she makes the recommendations as a physician and as health officer.
"We don't have much to offer right now with this virus," Landers said. "We have the social distancing. We have the hand sanitizing, and we have the cloth face covering. This is medical advice. I'm a doctor, and this is what I tell my family to do."
She said prevention is the ultimate goal, but while work continues on a vaccine the best the public can do is follow the advice.
"So we're providing a preventive message here," Landers said. "When we have a situation where we're not able to have prevention, we get into mitigation."
Mayor Steve Holt said he is not requiring people to wear masks in public, but stressed the importance of wearing them.
"Our position is masks are not required, but they sure are highly recommended right now," Holt said. "Just out of self-respect for ourselves and respect for others, wear your masks. If you're going into a public building, wear your masks. It's not our intention to mandate the wearing of masks. We do highly recommend it."
The mayor said activity has increased locally since more businesses have opened, which means the need for practicing these preventative measures is all the more important.
The state is following Gov. Kay Ivey's Safer at Home order. The governor earlier this year had ordered certain businesses to close and restaurants to only provide takeout meals. Since that time, she has relaxed those orders.
However, Ivey's Safer at Home order is set to expire Friday. She could extend or change it.
"I do hope that Gov. Ivey does not close our small businesses again," Holt said. "I think that is crucial. I think that is critical that it not happen again."
Landers also discussed the importance of self-quarantining if you have, or suspect you have, been exposed to COVID-19.
"Once you have COVID-19, you're in home quarantine until the Alabama Department of Public Health says you're not," she said. "A lot of people hear that it's 14 days. That can vary a little bit on individual cases.
"If you have a reason to be tested, you need to stay at home until you get those results. This is a message that we cannot repeat enough," Landers said.
She said not to worry about appearing rude by practicing the recommended 6-foot social distancing from others.
"If you're far enough away from people that you think you're rude, that's a good distance, and that's a good thing," Landers said.
"We will get through this," she said. "This pandemic will end, but right now it's going to take everyone taking the individual responsibilities that we can take on our own to protect our community, to protect our loved ones, and to protect ourselves."
Lauderdale County Commission Chairman Danny Pettus said local residents need to apply the 6-feet rule in all walks of life when possible.
"Wait about 6 feet away at the store when someone is getting something off the shelf," Pettus said. "There's just a lot of things like that that we can do."
Landers said hospitals and health care workers are managing the outbreak statewide.
"Right now, our health care system is handling this," Landers said. "But I stress they are handling this with an all hands on deck approach. They are working very long hours, and it is very stressful.
"How can we help our health care system?" she asked. "By continuing to take individual measures to help reduce the chances of spreading this. We don't need to stress the system."
There has been an upswing in young people contracting the disease, and Landers has advice for everyone in those age groups.
"Young people are not invincible," she said. "Young people can contract this virus, and young people can have a severe outcome."
District 1 City Councilwoman Kaytrina Simmons, whose district is the only one in Florence with a majority of residents who are minorities, said she has family members impacted by the disease.
Simmons said she hopes minorities pay attention to preventative measures.
"In the African-American community it has been noted that we are at a high risk due to our underlying health conditions, such as our high blood pressure and our diabetes," she said.
"I ride throughout the district and I see how we congregate. I know it's warm, and people are out more and want to be with their families. I know July 4 is coming up, and I know that you want to be with your families, just as I do.
"But please be mindful of social distancing," Simmons said. "Don't have your large gatherings. I say this because I care."
City Council President Dick Jordan said many people are doing what they are supposed to be doing, and that is going to help win this battle.
"I want to say how proud I am of the way the neighborhoods and city have pulled together," Jordan said after the news conference. "With all of us working together, we can eliminate this virus."