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Alabama mask order ends, but some cities, schools continue

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — With Gov. Kay Ivey advocating personal responsibility and common sense as Alabama’s statewide mask order ends Friday after nearly nine months, local governments, school systems and businesses are coming up with their own rules to address the continuing COVID-19 threat.

Two of Alabama’s largest cities, including Birmingham and Montgomery, are keeping mask requirements in place.

“We’re doing this because the pandemic still exists and remains a threat. I have been encouraged by many small businesses to extend the mandate beyond the expiration date of the state order,” Birmingham Mayor Randall L. Woodfin said.

Tuscaloosa city schools will continue to require face masks for all students, faculty and staff, spokeswoman Lesley Bruinton told The Tuscaloosa News. Tuscaloosa County schools, however, won’t require face coverings for workers or its 19,000 students.

Still struggling to treat the large number of COVID-19 patients in and around Cullman County, where mask use is spotty, Cullman Regional Medical Center said it would continue requiring face masks for anyone who enters the hospital. Nine people with COVID-19 were being treated there on Friday, including four in intensive care and three who are on ventilators.

“Although the community spread seems much lower than in previous months, Cullman Regional’s ICU is currently at 136% capacity and we’ve had to create additional overflow areas in order to accommodate all of our critically ill patients,” Dr. William Smith, the chief medical officer, said in a statement. “We must remain cautious in order to protect our patients and staff.”

The Decatur Daily reported that in Lawrence County, commissioners asking all county employees to wear a mask while assisting a citizen who is wearing a mask. Most people won’t cover their faces without the state order, said Commissioner Bobby Burch, “but we need to be respectful to those who wish to continue to wear a mask.”

Beach Jerky Life, a store that caters to tourists in Gulf Shores, will keep safeguards in place while allowing customers to make up their own minds, said operator Michael Stevens.

“We’re going to go ahead and leave our sneeze guards up to protect our staff that’s working here in the store,” Stevens told WALA-TV. “We are going to continue to exercise hand sanitizing and keeping our distance at some degree.”

While the state directive to wear masks is ending, state officials are urging people to continue for the sake of others.

Ivey this week said she’ll keep wearing a mask around others after Friday, and urged other Alabamians to do the same. She also urged people to respect businesses who require customers to wear masks.

“We are finally rounding the corner. While we haven’t whipped this deadly disease just yet, it appears that, thank the good Lord we are in the home stretch. Please, please continue to use good common sense and we will see the end of COVID-19 soon,” Ivey said.

More than 518,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Alabama, and more than 10,600 have died. The state has distributed more than 1.9 million vaccine doses yet still ranks last nationally in immunization rate.

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