BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Alabama's largest city will let its COVID-19 face mask requirement expire after Monday in what officials said was a step toward returning to pre-pandemic normalcy.
Begun more than a year ago and most recently extended in early April, before the state dropped its mask requirement, the rule will end at a time when fewer patients are hospitalized with the illness caused by the new coronavirus since early April 2020.
Noticeably more people have worn masks in the city than in outlying areas, and Mayor Randall Woodfin said the end of the requirement was a sign that vaccinations were making a difference.
"I urge everyone to remain vigilant. If you haven’t received the vaccine, please do so. If you have loved ones or friends who have not been vaccinated, help them make an appointment,” he said, according to al.com.
The head of the area chamber of commerce, the Birmingham Business Alliance, said member companies were split over whether the requirement should continue.
“One-third said get rid of it,” Ron Kitchens, chief executive of the organization, told WBRC-TV. “And one-third said let's keep it a little while and one-third said whatever leadership decides, we support.”
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University said that over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases in Alabama has decreased by 50, a decline of 14.6%.
But there were still about 228 new cases per 100,000 people in Alabama over the period, which ranks fourth nationally per capita. Jefferson County, where Birmingham is, and heavily populated neighboring Shelby County led the state in case increases, the researchers found.
Nearly 37% of the state's residents have received at least one vaccine dose and almost 29% are fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins.
City Council President William Parker said anyone who isn't vaccinated needs to continue wearing face masks to prevent another uptick in cases.
“We’re making a lot of progress, but we still have a long way to go,” he said.