The Alabama Department of Public Health and their unelected leader, Scott Harris, are back to pushing masks as a COVID-19 mitigation strategy.

Last week, with our tax dollars, they tweeted out a video of masked-up people that stated, “When in doubt, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Let’s normalize masking and protect our community #MaskUpAL.” The tweet got national attention as it came in conjunction with school systems in other states demanding children return to masking as they return to school. It was unbelievable to national pundits that Alabama health authorities would tweet a video of children with backpacks and masks or that they would be on the same political page as those mandating masks for kids in San Diego and Los Angeles County school systems.

Some local media reported that the tweet wasn’t actually a suggestion for a mask mandate. I’m not sure if those reporters understand what the term “normalize” means, what they think the hashtag indicates, or why they think young children with backpacks were chosen for the propaganda video. It literally says “JUST WEAR IT” in all caps over the body of a child whose face is masked (who appears to be standing in a school next to another child … who’s face is also masked). The mental calculation here isn’t difficult. Perhaps their misunderstanding is a deficit of oxygen issue. Surely they haven’t forgotten that Scott Harris and his team of “public health experts” are the ones who suggested that Governor Kay Ivey force Alabamians and their children to mask for nine months regardless of the academic, developmental or psychological consequences.

Governor Ivey responded in a folksy way, that was somewhat embarrassing to try to explain around the dinner table, that she wasn’t on board with the ADPH’s advocacy for the normalization of masking. Her office released a statement saying, “Normalizing masking, COVID restrictions and the like are not anywhere in Governor Ivey’s vocabulary. Alabamians have common sense and can choose what is best for them.”

That’s puzzling since COVID-19 restrictions and mandates were certainly in Governor Ivey’s vocabulary when she issued executive orders declaring certain businesses essential and non-essential and shuttered houses of worship.

COVID-19 restrictions were in her vocabulary when she mandated masks for anyone indoors or outdoors who couldn’t maintain a six-foot distance from others and on all public transportation regardless of distance.

They were in her vocabulary when, after we were magnanimously allowed to emerge from forced lockdowns, she forcibly masked every child in school and every person in worship.

Was April 9, 2021, so long ago that her vocabulary has completely reversed course? It seems like just yesterday she was saying any Alabamians who questioned unelected public health authorities had no common sense at all. 

COVID-19 restrictions were part of Ivey’s vocabulary when she stated, “…you need to understand that we’re past urging people to stay home. It is now the law.” That was April 2020.

COVID-19 restrictions were part of Ivey’s vocabulary when she declared, “I’m simply trying to urge you to use the common sense the good Lord gave each of us, to be smart and considerate of others. The mask mandate remains the one stopgap in order to keep the balance of our daily lives and maintaining health and safety”. That was December 2020.

COVID-19 restrictions were part of Ivey’s vocabulary when she accused unvaccinated Alabamians of not having common sense and blamed them for the continued spread of COVID-19 by saying they were letting “the regular people” down by not complying with the shots. That was July 23, 2021 - a year ago this week.

Aldous Huxley stated, “The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.” COVID-19 propaganda on both the state and federal levels was clearly effective. Despite the disingenuous mantra of “we’re all in this together,” publicly fueled propaganda served its purpose of dividing and conquering its own citizenry. Will we allow it to continue unabated here in Alabama?

Ivey’s own affinity for and implementation of onerous COVID-19 restrictions seem to have slipped her mind as she prepared for the primary; she repeatedly promised voters that she would fight back against federal overreach on COVID-19 mandates.

After shirking their duty for several sessions, the legislature acted on behalf of unvaccinated working Alabamians with a Vaccine Passport Ban and a government-controlled procedure for selective exemptions to shot mandates. However, they left off the ability to call themselves into session and failed to pass any ability to curtail the never-ending emergency powers of the executive branch. They also left the ability to discriminate against Alabamians due to heath status on the table, refused to protect school children from masking or even designate that parents should be able to opt-out of masking, ignored the plight of students being pressured to comply, looked the other way as military and federal employees were targeted and fired for non-compliance, and left the unelected and unaccountable State Health Officer’s power safely in place.

Surrounding states' legislatures and conservative governors acted on many of these issues and their citizens are much better equipped to stave off another pandemic-related misuse of state governmental power. Alabamians are not protected in the least, as most of our elected officials seem content to remain in quiet deference to quasi-governmental authorities and businesses demanding compliance to COVID-19 mitigation strategies in exchange for the ability to attend school, gain employment or remain employed, as long as Biden is available to shoulder the blame. 

Our elected officials repeatedly promised voters that they would fight back against federal overreach on COVID-19. What’s not clear is how they reconcile the mental disconnect between blame-shifting to Biden and accepting ownership of the havoc they wreaked on their own citizens themselves.

To her credit, Governor Ivey seems to have learned a few things in the past year.

But what of the rest of our representatives? Will they fight back against the Alabama Department of Public Health and their incessant drumbeat of taxpayer-funded propaganda? Will they right the wrongs endured by the citizens they failed to protect? Will they use the lessons we’ve learned in the past two years regarding governmental overreach to ensure that balance, transparency, and accountability are restored?

That remains to be seen.

Stephanie Holden Smith is an experienced policy analyst, political commentator, and public speaker. Smith has worked and volunteered in Governmental Affairs in Alabama since 1997, including lobbying for a Fortune 500 company and serving as Deputy Director of Finance for the State of Alabama. She is currently the principal of Thatcher Coalition LLC. To contact Stephanie, please go to http://thatchercoalition.comThe views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information

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