People will be required to wear face coverings in Anniston city buildings even after the statewide mask order expires Friday, a policy approved by the Anniston City Council in a 5-0 vote Tuesday.
Council members, in their regular meeting at Anniston City Meeting Center, considered and rejected a proposal to make the mask mandate citywide — not just restricted to city facilities.
“I’d like to see more people get vaccinated before we go back,” said Councilman D.D. Roberts, who proposed the citywide mask mandate.
Since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has killed 310 people in Calhoun County, according to Tuesday morning numbers from the Alabama Department of Public Health.
But there are signs that the vaccination campaign is taking effect. Calhoun County is now recording only five or six new cases of the virus per day.
Statewide, a little more than 300 people are in the hospital with coronavirus; in January, there were more than 10 times as many people hospitalized.
Gov. Kay Ivey announced last month that the statewide mask order would expire at 5 p.m. Friday. Ivey also urged people to continue to wear masks voluntarily.
Enforcement of the mandate, with fines or citations for mask scofflaws, has been rare throughout the pandemic.
Even though the end of the mask mandate is days away, uncovered faces are an increasingly common sight in stores in Anniston, Oxford and Jacksonville.
Supporters of Anniston’s new city-facilities-only mask mandate say it will set the right tone for businesses whose owners also want to continue to require masks.
“The city, taking this action, gives them some cover,” said Councilman Jay Jenkins.
Jenkins said he is going to continue wearing the mask, but he and other council members expressed misgivings about setting a policy that residents might reject. Others on the council said that without similar rules in surrounding cities, enforcement of the rule would be difficult.
“It’s a delicate balance of government overreach and good sense,” Jenkins said.
Roberts said his concern stems in part from the fact that there are many older residents in Ward 2, which he represents. He said he expects to soon see a rise in new cases in the wake of spring break.
Anniston city schools had their spring break last week; most other local systems held the break earlier in March.
Councilwoman Mille Harris said while she was sympathetic to Roberts’ idea, she noted that new cases have dropped in recent weeks.
“Something’s working, and I think that’s because we took the virus seriously,” she said.
Harris said the council could always change the mask rule at a future meeting if need be.
The coming expiration of the mask order has both business owners and cities pondering whether they should keep their mask rules, and for how long.
Charlotte Hubbard, owner of the Oxford restaurant Hubbard’s Off Main, said she plans to keep mask requirements in place in some areas, such as when servers are working on a buffet line. She also plans to keep up expanded glove-wearing requirements — she’s paying $800 more per month on rubber gloves for employees than she did before the pandemic — and has set up an outdoor dining space to accommodate more customers.
“I feel like people are more comfortable with going to public places now because of vaccinations,”she said.
Hubbard is also on the Oxford City Council. So far, she said, she’s not aware of any effort to extend mask rules in that city.