by Summer Bowman, Sidney Smith and Raven Madison
During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Randall Woodfin announced the mask ordinance within the city of Birmingham would be allowed to expire Friday night, after having twice been extended by council members at the request of the Mayor.
The mayor said he hoped cautious measures would still continue because citizens “must not let our guard down”.
The ordinance, requiring anyone who ventured into public to wear a face covering, earned some notable critics — including Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall.
Marshall called the ordinance “excessive” in a letter sent to the City of Birmingham at the end of April, going so far as to call enforcement of the ordinance “unconstitutional”.
Woodfin responded in kind with a letter of his own to the Attorney General, defending the ordinance as reasonable and similar to measures taken in over 50 other cities nationwide.
The mayor also took time to note that while Birmingham was the first city to take strict measures attempting to stop the spread of the coronavirus, it was not alone. He made reference to Governor Kay Ivey’s own announcement of a subsequent statewide stay-at-home ban that soon followed the city’s ordinance.
While speaking to members of the council Tuesday, Woodfin continued to emphasize the guidance given by local health officials and the CDC.
“Public health leaders say covering your nose and mouth is a critical tool to help reduce the spread of coronavirus,” Woodfin said.
Woodfin also said he urged everyone to keep social distancing and wearing face coverings in public.
Alabama continued to see a rise in COVID-19 cases this week, after the statewide safer-at-home order expired on May 22.
“Hopefully, people will understand that this pandemic is far from over,” Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson said in a statement after news of the mask ordinance winding down was announced.
“We all need to protect each other by wearing face coverings, regardless of whether there is an ordinance,” Wilson said.
In other city news, the council voted to extend the City’s micro transit pilot program, “Birmingham On-Demand” for 6 to 8 weeks, which will allow the service to extend through the end of the fiscal year at no additional cost to the city.
The service is an additional option for transportation within the limits of the pilot program boundaries, which includes as far west as the CrossPlex and extends downtown, with access to hospitals and grocery stores.
Council members also approved a measure ensuring added benefits for retired public service workers who return to their job on the force.
Retired police and fire employees can now expect to receive up to half of their forfeited paid sick leave. Those who used their paid time off prior to retirement may not be as inclined to rejoin the force as they will not be receiving any additional paid leave.
“This is only going to effect a small number of people because most rehires used their sick leave before they left,” said Assistant Chief of Police Treadaway.
Additionally, if an employee was rehired before the approval of the council, the employee may not receive the same benefits. The benefits will not be retroactive and only apply to rehires from this point forward.
Councilman Hunter Williams of District 2 said he believed this addition was needed in order for those who have retired from the force to return during a public safety staffing shortfall.