By Erica Thomas, managing editor
BIRMINGHAM — For national, state, county and local leaders, a pandemic can pose many challenges. Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson said he is not immune to those difficulties.
Wilson said since the coronavirus pandemic began, one of his biggest challenges has been battling false information from those who question the facts.
“There’s people who think there’s some conspiracy and there are those who try to downplay this as no worse than the flu,” Wilson said.
Another challenge Wilson has faced is people questioning him and the decisions he makes for the overall health of people in Jefferson County.
“Some complain about me being overly aggressive and overreach of authority,” Wilson explained. “That’s been the bigger challenge and tapping into people’s better sides of really caring for one another.”
Wilson said he recognized frustrations from the public after he made recommendations for the reopening of schools.
“I know that my recommendations caused quite a stir for so many parents,” Wilson said. “I came in and disrupted what they thought would be their plan.”
But Wilson said he has to look out for the health and wellness of all students and teachers in schools within the county. He also said coronavirus is not the only health concern. In fact, he said he had to consider the mental and social health of students as well.
Wilson said he believes some of the things that were originally controversial, such as face-coverings, have become more accepted as the public learns how serious coronavirus is. He believes those who are more vulnerable are more concerned, for good reason.
“They know they have underlying conditions, they know they are older,” Wilson said. “I think those in the African American community, by and large, tend to be more concerned because they know the statistics. So, we do see some differences based on people’s perceived risk.”
The CDC reported there are long-standing systemic health and social inequities that have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at an increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19. Some of those inequities include housing, education, income and healthcare access, according to the CDC.
Others at high risk for severe symptoms are those with pre-existing health conditions and the elderly.
While some have complained about face-covering orders, Wilson said masks need to be worn to protect those who come into contact with the wearer of the mask.
“I keep hearing the refrain that ‘this should be my personal choice about what I do or what I don’t do,’ in spite of the fact that we keep saying over and over again, ‘It’s not just about you, it’s about us,’ So, that’s been frustrating for me,” said Wilson.
The health officer said he also believes an understanding of how coronavirus spreads has improved over time because people in the county have likely seen someone they know dealing with the illness.
“You would be more and more hard-pressed to find somebody that doesn’t know somebody who has gotten really sick or died from this,” he said.
As Wilson considers factors in Jefferson County in the future, he hopes people are able to come together with understanding, while maintaining a safe distance.
“We’re all in this together, trying to get it right and it’s extremely challenging trying to balance the different needs,” Wilson said.