Fort Payne Mayor Larry Chesser is warning businesses that they may have their licenses suspended if they do not get serious about enforcing guidelines to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

“It is very alarming to see the number of COVID cases rapidly rise within our city,” Chesser said Thursday. “We have gone from two or three [cases] per day to as many as 23 per day. The numbers are disappointing, but what is worse is that most all of us know someone personally who has the infection. Some have been very serious and some have died.”

Addressing the suggestion that increased testing is the reason why there are more positive coronavirus results, Chesser said, “The percentage of those testing positive has gone from 10 percent to now 16 percent. It is spreading, and no one can argue it isn’t.”

According to Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), DeKalb County has seen 790 cases of infection since March 26, the date of the first reported case in the county. ADPH has attributed five deaths in that timeframe as being caused by coronavirus infection. In the last 14 days, 307 positive cases have been detected as a result of 1,872 tests conducted locally. The state does not provide a breakdown by city, but Chesser gains some sense of how many local households are impacted based on the limited information the Emergency Management Agency shares with dispatchers to alert first responders in the event of emergency calls.

Despite 1,032 deaths in Alabama attributed to COVID-19, Chesser said he fears “the majority of our people are just not taking it seriously. Most are not wearing masks. Whole families are going shopping and bringing all the kids, and certainly not maintaining any social distancing.”

In response, the mayor directed city police officers to present a letter to sit-down restaurants in Fort Payne calling attention to the fact that many are not abiding by state health rules during the pandemic. These include:

• No party larger than eight persons at any one table.

• Separation must be a minimum of six feet between guests at one table to another occupied table.

• Bars require six feet of separation between parties.

• Each employee should wear a mask covering the nose and mouth when interacting with a patron.

• No self-service is allowed.

• Tables and any item on them must be sanitized before the next patron can be seated.

State guidelines also recommend restaurants and bars use disposable menus, post signage telling customers to practice social distancing, using single-use items like packets of ketchup or salt, encouraging reservation-only or call-ahead seating and installing physical barriers such as partitions or Plexiglas at registers where practical.

Chesser said these regulations must be followed in order to remain open and warned the restaurants that disregarding the rules may result in the suspension of their city business license.

“Our cases in Fort Payne are drastically on the rise. It gets more serious each day. We must do all we can to curb the spread,” the mayor’s letter read.

“There are other segments of business who are also not doing as well. Some beauty salons, certain retail establishments and some service businesses,” he said.

Chesser warned that the city has the authority to take control of the situation if community spread of the coronavirus continues to rapidly expand. Madison County and Decatur recently passed mandates for their citizens to wear face coverings in public places to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

He doesn’t want it to come to that in Fort Payne.  

“If problems continue to be highlighted and if we don’t get our numbers down, more drastic action may have to be taken! I hate to see people hurting and dying on my watch, especially when it might be avoided by some common sense reactions and care for your neighbors. We can all do better! If you go somewhere that these rules aren’t being followed, leave that business and the business owner will get the message,” he said.  

A face covering is defined as a device to cover the nose and mouth of a person to impede the spread of saliva or other fluids during speaking, coughing, sneezing, or other intentional or involuntary action. Medical-grade masks are not required. Coverings may be made from scarves, bandanas, or other fabrics.

Face coverings are particularly important when visiting indoor spaces of businesses or venues open to the public (stores, bars, restaurants, entertainment venues, public meeting spaces or government buildings) and outdoor areas open to the public where 10 or more persons are gathered and where people are unable to maintain a distance of six or more feet between persons not from the same household. Face coverings are also strongly recommended for congregants at worship services and for situations where people from different households are unable to or unlikely to maintain a distance of six feet from each other.

COVID-19 infection is usually spread to others through a respiratory route, and this can occur without symptoms. Studies illustrate how it can be spread through speaking, coughing, and sneezing -- including by asymptomatic people. Face coverings create a barrier between a person's face and the air around him or her. Face coverings prevent people from spreading respiratory droplets and can prevent them from acquiring the virus from others.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said that until the country has a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, “wearing a face covering in public is a key measure we have available to prevent transmission of the virus. We need to do all we can to limit the spread.”

ADPH also advises these actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

• Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds

• Social distance by staying 6 feet away from others

• Avoid people who are sick

• Stay home if you can; work remotely if possible

• Cover your mouth and nose with a face covering when around others

• Cover coughs and sneezes

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces

• Monitor your health

Persons over 65 years in age or individuals with serious underlying health conditions are strongly encouraged to exercise personal responsibility in slowing the spread of COVID-19 by wearing the face covering; staying home and following good sanitation practices including minimizing travel outside the home, especially if sick; washing hands frequently with soap and water or hand sanitizer, especially after touching frequently used items or surfaces; refraining from touching one’s face; sneezing or coughing into a tissue, or the inside of one’s elbow; and disinfecting frequently used items and surfaces as much as possible.

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