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RMC chief urges Jacksonville council to require masks


Regional Medical Center CEO Louis Bass waits to speak to the Jacksonville City Council during its Monday night work session to ask them to pass an ordinance requiring the public to wear masks.

Regional Medical Center’s chief executive Monday urged the Jacksonville City Council to consider an ordinance requiring masks to be worn in public to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

A growing number of municipalities across the state have enacted or are considering a mandatory mask ordinance. The neighboring city of Anniston discussed the possibility in a council work session last week.

“Somebody’s gotta be first,” RMC CEO Louis Bass said. “We would love to see Jacksonville step forward and be the first city in the county to put forth a citywide mask ordinance.”

The call from Bass to enact a mask ordinance comes as the number of COVID-19 cases in Calhoun County has more than doubled in the past two weeks. On July 6, there were seven patients hospitalized at the Regional Medical Center. A week later, that number rose to 25, with five of those on ventilators, Bass said.

Bass said that he wants people to understand that COVID-19 does not just affect “the senior citizens.” 

“We actually just had a patient that was admitted and put on a vent that is 24 years old,” he said.

Councilwoman Sandra Sudduth explained that the council “needs to do something” about the rising cases of the virus.

“If you go to the store or anywhere today, you don’t see that many people with masks on,” Sudduth said. “It’s scary.”

“I agree,” Councilman Jerry Parris said to Sudduth. “If we can be the first ones, that’s good.”

Parris, in reference to a resolution on the council’s agenda to recommend masks, said he wants to go a step further than that and require masks.

“I think we have to be strong that we want this done,” he said.

Councilman Tony Taylor said that he does not agree with an ordinance to mandate citizens to wear a mask.

“Us trying to mandate or require, I just don’t see how we can police that,” Taylor said. “The same citizens we’re trying to protect, we’re gonna fine them? We’re gonna throw them in jail?”

Councilman Coty Galloway did not comment on the discussion, instead asking Jacksonville police Chief Marcus Wood for his input.

“I would have some concerns on being able to enforce it,” Wood said. “I could very well see the Police Department being inundated with Joe Blow citizens standing outside of Walmart calling every time someone walks in Walmart without a mask on. I just have concerns about the workload that it would put on the police officers.”

“You said ‘the workload’,” Sudduth responded. “I’m thinking about the workload put on the healthcare people too.”

Councilman Terry Wilson said that the council needs to be “aggressive” on the issue of masks because “somebody’s gotta start helping draw the line.”

“Look at it this way: If it made 100 people wear a mask, then have we not helped the situation besides just sitting back and saying, ‘Well, you don’t have to wear one. Go crazy,’” Wilson said.

Mayor Johnny Smith raised concerns about enforcement, but did not outright oppose the idea. 

“You stop somebody on the street that doesn’t have a mask on, you gonna fine them?” Smith asked. “I think it’s something we need to think through.”

Sudduth said that she will oversee organization of a committee designed to put together a mask ordinance to be introduced to the council.

“I think once that committee’s had time to talk about that, they’ll bring a recommendation back,” Smith said. “I expect we’ll probably do something next meeting.”

The next meeting of the council is set to take place July 27 at 7 p.m.

In other business, the council:

— Passed a resolution to strongly suggest citizens wear a mask in public areas around the city.

— Changed the name of the “Jacksonville Board of Education” to “Jacksonville City Schools.”

— Approved an audiobook plan with Blackstone Library.

— Signed a memorandum of understanding between Opportunity Alabama Inc., the city of Anniston, Jacksonville State University, the Calhoun County Area Chamber and Visitors Center, Calhoun County Economic Development and McClellan Development Authority.

— Terminated Jerry Benefield as utility maintenance assistant director.

— Accepted a bid with AMR Systems to replace the city’s handheld water meters with automated meters in the amount of $1,514,820.

— Signed a memorandum of understanding with the Jacksonville Board of Education to purchase, train and maintain a school safety dog.

— Signed a lease agreement with Xerox for a copy machine in the municipal court

— Heard additional public comment from citizens both opposed to and in favor of removing the Confederate statue from the public square.