By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
The Birmingham City Council on Tuesday extended an ordinance requiring face masks or coverings to be worn in public until May 24. The council voted 8-1 with Councilor Hunter Williams being the lone ‘no’ vote.
The passing of the ordinance comes three days before the state of Alabama’s mask mandate is set to expire April 9 and comes as no surprise since Birmingham was one of the first municipalities to require facial coverings at the onset of the global COVID-19 health crisis in 2020.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said the extension of the mask ordinance was passed for several reasons.
“One, because the global health pandemic still exists, people are still catching and getting coronavirus, still being hospitalized and still dying from this virus today,” said Woodfin, who contracted the virus earlier this year. “Second I have spoken to many small business owners and they are adamant about encouraging the city to do its own ordinance.”
Woodfin added that a majority of city residents still need to be vaccinated. “Vaccinations are available but the City of Birmingham along with the state’s percentages are very low compared to other parts of the country,” he said.
The mayor said decisions are being made to “save lives. It may not be popular, people may not be excited about it, I’ll be honest, I’m not excited about it, but I will continue to do my part if in exchange more lives are saved,” he said.
Williams, who has consistently voted against previous citywide mask ordinances, did so again Tuesday saying the ordinance is ‘government overreach’, questioned the impact of the ordinance on Birmingham’s small business community.
“We have 32 municipalities in Jefferson County and having just one city [with] a mask order is not really effective,” said Williams. He referenced a Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) survey where one person surveyed said if there are “additional restrictions downtown [Birmingham] . . . people will choose to go to other places,” he said.
However, a majority of Councilors agreed that requiring masks to be worn in public is the right thing to do.
“I’ve received correspondence from constituents arguing both sides of this, but I am in favor,” said Councilor Darrell O’Quinn. “Part of what I have heard from constituents is that they appreciate that the city of Birmingham is an oasis in an otherwise wild west situation … [a] majority of folks I have talked to and heard from are glad we are considering this.”
Council President Pro-Tempore Wardine Alexander said simply that masks work.
“I want to thank each of my colleagues for your leadership and wanting to be sure that our residents are safe during this pandemic,” she said. “. . . I am encouraged by the advocacy of our council members and of our city… it is not rocket science, just wear the masks. We have seen the benefits of it so far.”
In related news, Birmingham City Schools will continue requiring masks or other face coverings for all students, faculty, staff and visitors in district facilities through the final nine weeks of the spring semester.
Superintendent Dr. Mark Sullivan said the masks are necessary as the district maintains its commitment to the health and safety of all students and employees.
The mask requirement includes traditional school and any other school-sponsored events such as graduation ceremonies.
Also, the Jefferson County Board of Education has announced face masks will be required for students, faculty, staff, and visitors throughout the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.