If there is any question about the effectiveness of masks in combating the coronavirus, the decline in positivity rate since Alabama masked up should put that question to rest.
Although there have been many problems with the state’s coronavirus dashboard - data not being entered on a timely basis, changes to what information is reported and how - the information on the 14-day rolling average and the positivity rates has been consistently reported and gives an overall view of how Alabama is doing in curtailing the spread of the virus.
The news is good.
On July 18, Alabama’s positivity rate - the percentage of positive results of COVID-19 tests - was at it’s highest point, 16.5 percent. On July 15 Gov. Kay Ivey ordered Alabamians to wear masks in public when they can’t maintain social distancing. Since the 18th, Alabama’s positivity rate has declined to 7.5 percent as of Aug. 15.
According to the dashboard, on that day, nearly 100,000 COVID-19 tests were performed, and 7.5 percent of those were positive for the virus. It’s important to note that the number of tests performed has remained fairly consistent - over 90,000 - for that period of time. For there to be fewer cases among the same number of tests indicates the community spread of the disease is slowing.
We should also note that while Alabama is meeting the Alabama Department of Health’s stated goal of testing 2 percent of the population per month, that is still well below the amount of testing the Harvard Global Health Institute says is needed to mitigate or suppress the spread of the disease. More testing is needed to identify and isolate cases before they can be spread among the community.
The World Health Organization recommended a positivity rate of 5 percent or below be maintained or 14 days before governments begin reopening. Clearly, we started that process well before hitting the 5 percent threshold, but, since Alabama has masked up, we’re moving closer to the goal.
With the numbers getting better, however, now is not the time to declare the battle won and go backwards. We’ve seen that following the guidelines work, and by following them, we are able to go about our lives and business.
Gov. Ivey’s current executive order, which includes the mask mandate, is set to expire at the end of this month. With Alabama on the right trajectory, we hope Gov. Ivey will renew the order for Alabamians to mask up and continue following other guidelines until our numbers are even better. We’re making progress; let’s not lose that momentum.