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Teen council member hospitalized with COVID after opposing mask mandate in Alabama city

The (Raleigh) News & Observer logo The (Raleigh) News & Observer 9/17/2021 Simone Jasper, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Sep. 17—A 19-year-old council member is in a hospital with COVID-19 months after he opposed a face mask mandate in his Alabama city.

"It feels terrible not to be able to breathe," said Hunter Pepper, who serves as a councilman in Decatur, roughly 90 miles north of Birmingham.

Pepper said his worsening condition led him to Decatur Morgan Hospital, where he was being treated for coronavirus-related complications.

"I am still shallow in breathing but my oxygen remains okay for now," Pepper wrote Thursday in a post that has since been removed from his public Facebook page. "Confirming last night after a 'CT-Scan' I am now shown to have 'Covid Pneumonia' which is absolutely terrible."

Pepper, who tested positive for the virus on Wednesday, said he hopes to be well enough to tune into next week's council meeting.

"Everything in me wants to tell myself it is something different but every way I look it's 'Covid this, Covid that' and it has terrified me and my family," he wrote Wednesday on Facebook. "The media continues to report on Covid-19 and explains 'Death' each time they do. That is honestly terrifying to me but I have faith in the lord."

Coronavirus metrics have been on the rise as the contagious delta variant spreads across the country. Health experts have urged people to get vaccinated against the disease and wear masks in public places where transmission of the virus is high.

Before COVID-19 patients started filling hospitals to capacity this summer, Pepper in April voted against keeping his city's mask mandate. He told fellow Decatur council members he thinks wearing a face covering is a personal choice.

"I do believe that is overreach," Pepper said in video from the April 7 meeting. "I'm not trying to make this a political statement. I do believe that everyone's health is an issue, and I believe that we should take it extremely seriously."

During the meeting, Pepper also questioned what experts have shared about the effectiveness of masks, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says help to block particles that can spread the virus that causes COVID-19.

Ultimately, meeting minutes show the city's mask order was repealed in a 4 to 1 vote.

More recently, Pepper took to social media in July to criticize Gov. Kay Ivey's comments about the coronavirus vaccine. At the time, the state leader blamed unvaccinated people for spreading the disease, CNN reported.

"I will NEVER, push something on you or tell you that you must do something or your not a great member of society (sorta like Governor Ivey did yesterday) because I don't agree with it," Pepper wrote July 24 on Facebook.

In that post, Pepper didn't say whether he had gotten a COVID-19 vaccine. He is 19 and was the youngest person chosen to serve on the Decatur city council when he was elected in August 2020, according to The Washington Post and other news outlets.

Pepper didn't immediately respond to McClatchy News' request for comment on Friday.

This story was originally published September 17, 2021 12:49 PM.

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