By Sam Prickett
Birmingham residents will be legally required to wear face masks in public starting May 1. The Birmingham City Council passed that legislation, sponsored by Mayor Randall Woodfin, on Tuesday; it’s the latest in a series of orders designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The city had previously ordered a “shelter-in-place” ordinance which is in place through April 30; that order has not been extended. Gov. Kay Ivey announced Tuesday morning a statewide order that would reopen businesses, public beaches and retail stores under certain conditions, but keep restaurants, churches, bars, gyms, entertainment videos, senior citizen centers and schools closed through May 15.
Face masks are defined by the ordinance as “a device to cover the nose and mouth: to impede the spread of saliva or other fluids during speaking, coughing, sneezing or other intentional or involuntary action.” Medical-grade masks are not required by the ordinance; scarves, bandanas or other fabrics will suffice.
The ordinance provides several exceptions to the rule; it is not required for people engaging in individual outdoor exercise, children two years old and under, medical or dental patients, or people for whom “wearing a face covering or (mask) poses a greater mental or physical health, safety or security risk, such as anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the cover without assistance.”
Employers are not required to provide masks for their employees but are required to ensure that their employees, customers, clients and visitors are wearing face masks while at their place of business.
Woodfin said he was “encouraged” that roughly half the people he had seen in public places “are already voluntarily doing this.”
“We need to take this seriously, because we’re not out of the woods,” Woodfin said. “I think this is the right thing to do from a public safety, public health standpoint.”
The ordinance currently has no expiration date; it will be in effect “subject to modification for evolving information on preventing the spread of COVID-19 or other direction from federal, state or local officials.” Violators will be subject to a fine of up to $500 and/or up to 30 days in jail, though Woodfin said that the police department would initially be more focused on “educating folk” about the ordinance, as they had with earlier shelter-in-place orders.