Alabama’s mask mandate ended Friday. Here’s how it will impact Tuscaloosa

While the city is relaxing restrictions, UA will continue to mandate masks.

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The Tuscaloosa City Council voted April 6 to rescind Mayor Walt Maddox’s emergency powers ahead of a statewide ease on COVID-19 restrictions. Screenshot via Tuscaloosa City Council/Facebook Live

As of 5 p.m. on April 9, the state’s mask mandate, along with other statewide restrictions on bars, restaurants, and medical facilities, has been lifted, according to the amended health order signed by Gov. Kay Ivey. 

There are no requirements in the health order that will impact colleges and universities. However, many institutions, like the University of Alabama, will continue mandating masks throughout the summer until further notice.

Under the new “safer apart” order, masks, social distancing and the use of partitions are no longer requirements and instead become a matter of “personal responsibility,” Ivey said during a press conference on Wednesday. 

“Folks, we’re still under a public health order, but it is greatly slimmed down,” she said. “After a year of having Dr. Harris and me stand up here extending the mandate, it is just the right thing to do to practice personal responsibility.” 

Additionally, schools and childcare facilities will be asked to maintain three feet of separation between children who are between the ages of six and 18 when practical.

The only requirements outlined in the new health order are continued quarantine guidelines for those who test positive, as well as requirements for hospitals and nursing homes to increase the total number of accompanying caregivers for patients from one to two.

Ivey explained that since the previous announcement on March 4, businesses have had the opportunity to make their own policies regarding mask wearing and social distancing. She said that the past five weeks have also given the opportunity for more Alabamians to get the vaccine. 

“It is so encouraging to see that folks are wanting to get vaccinated to help themselves and keep their families safe,” she said, describing one of the many drive-thru vaccine clinics in the state. “Because of these efforts and the partnership with providers all across our state, almost 1.2 million individuals have had at least one shot of the vaccine.”

Eligibility for the vaccine extended to all individuals, age 16 or older, on April 5. According to the state’s vaccine dashboard, more than 760,000 Alabamians had completed the vaccine series by April 9. 

Ivey said that although she is vaccinated, she will follow the Centers for Disease Control guidelines and continue to wear her mask when around other people, and she encourages others to do so, too. 

She made one last plea to the residents of Alabama. “Wear your mask and social distance when you’re around other people,” she said. “Use common sense. Use personal responsibility.” 

While the statewide mask mandate has expired, larger cities like Birmingham and Montgomery have issued local mask ordinances. In a council meeting on Tuesday, April 6, the Tuscaloosa City Council voted to rescind the mayor’s emergency powers, which were granted last March. 

According to Associate City Attorney Scott Holmes, these powers gave Mayor Walt Maddox the power to make unilateral decisions to combat community fallout from the pandemic. These powers included closing restaurants, reducing service capacity at establishments that serve alcohol and authorizing step-up pay, a program that allowed Tuscaloosa citizens to “step-up” to a higher position and get paid accordingly during the pandemic. 

“Capacity limits at restaurants ended last summer and the Alabama [Alcoholic Beverage Control] ended capacity limits at bars in February,” Holmes said. 

Though the relaxation of COVID-related restrictions has been in progress for some months, cancelling Walt Maddox’s emergency powers will make reinstating any future restrictions a lengthier process—one that will require a city council vote. 

In a statement to The CW, City Councilmember Kip Tyner, who represents District 5, said the council has no plans for a local mask mandate, nor were they considering a reinstatement of emergency powers any time soon. 

“Now it’s up to individual businesses to decide what they want to do moving forward, and our cases here have dropped dramatically and consistently, so I see no reason to reinstate emergency powers,” Tyner says. 

Tyner said that while restrictions have been lifted, the council approved increasing outdoor dining at Chuck’s Fish and Taco Mama for 30 days, at their requests, to allow for social distancing.

The “safer apart” order expires on May 5 at 5 p.m.