Less than a week after announcing that the city’s face covering ordinance would expire at midnight May 29, the Birmingham City Council during a specially called meeting today extended the ordinance until midnight June 12.
The council voted 7-0 in favor, with Councilors Steven Hoyt and Hunter Williams absent. Williams has been a vocal opponent of the ordinance, saying that the requirement is government overreach.
With the number of COVID-19 cases continuing to grow in Alabama, Jefferson County and Birmingham, a majority of council members said they wanted to take proactive steps and may even extend the ordinance past mid-June.
“We will be seeking consultation from health officials as we move forward to see if it needs to be extended beyond June 12,” said Council President William Parker. “We are going to utilize all of the tools within our toolbox to make sure that we provide safety to the residents of the city of Birmingham.”
Parker said the goal is to “keep the citizens of Birmingham safe. … We want to stress the importance of wearing a face mask, social distancing and all those things as we work to flatten the curve. We have to do all that we can.”
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin was not in attendance but said through his public information office that he was in favor of the extension.
The council also reduced the fines and penalties for anyone who violates the ordinance.
Originally, violators were subjected to a $500 fine or 30 days in the municipal jail for failure to comply. Now, offenders face a $25 fine on the first offense, a $100 fine on the second and a $250 fine for the third offense.
The decision to extend the ordinance pleased some of the councilors who didn’t want it to expire.
“All that we are saying is we’re following the numbers of the health department and what they are saying and if those numbers come down, then obviously we won’t have to wear the mask. It is all about a safe city, safe county and a safe Alabama,” said Councilor John Hilliard, who this week had raised concerns about the expiration.
Councilor Wardine Alexander said it’s important to continue to protect those potentially “compromised” based on age or health disparities.
Councilor Clinton Woods said the ordinance “adds that layer of comfort. … I’m not going to tell people there is nothing to worry about when the actual data and numbers tell us there is. I do believe we will get past this, but part of advancing life is being willing to sacrifice.”
Parker said the council will plan education campaigns around COVID-19 and the importance of wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
“You are going to see an aggressive approach that we’re moving forward. … We’re going to ramp that up starting early next week, but we’re going to do a better job of educating the community through social media, new-school media, old school — there will be a more comprehensive approach to educating and working with the community.”
This story originally appeared on The Birmingham Times’ website.