After spending time recently in the hospital with COVID-19, local restaurant owner Christy Wheat is wary but excited by Friday’s expected end to Gov. Kay Ivey’s mandatory mask order and a city mask ordinance.
Ivey has said repeatedly she will not extend the emergency order that includes requiring face masks because of the coronavirus pandemic. She is scheduled to give a news conference on COVID-19 today at 11 a.m.
The Decatur City Council was unable to vote Monday on whether to repeal its mandatory mask ordinance, passed in July just days before Ivey issued the statewide order, after Councilman Billy Jackson refused to join in the unanimous consent that would have been necessary for immediate consideration of the issue.
The council will hold a called meeting at 4 p.m. today to vote on repealing the mandatory mask ordinance. The repeal would take effect Friday, when the governor's order expires.
John Seymour, president and CEO of the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce, said he’s not sure how lifting the state and city orders will impact businesses.
“At some point we’ve got to get back to normal, but people are still being very cautious,” Seymour said.
Wheat, who co-owns Simp McGhee's and Josie’s with her husband John Wheat, said she supports the governor's decision and will not require masks in the restaurant, but she admitted it’s not an easy decision.
“It’s a Catch-22,” said Wheat. “We want things back to normal but want to be safe. I’ve had COVID and I wouldn’t want anyone to get it, but I also (want to) open my business.”
Taylor Jones, general manager and partner of B.B. Perrin’s restaurant, said he also has trepidation about lifting the mask mandates, but generally supports the move.
“It’s a terrible, concerning disease and it effects so many people with underlying conditions,” Jones said. “But more people have received their vaccines now and the hospitals aren’t overloaded. It’s getting safer now.”
However, Sherman Street resident Sandra McCandless said she thinks the governor and the City Council are moving too quickly.
“If you research the topic, most of the top virologists recommend that people don’t ditch the masks, social distancing and other precautions just yet because we haven’t had enough people vaccinated,” McCandless said.
McCandless said the City Council is responsible for the health and safety of Decatur residents. She was particularly critical of Councilman Hunter Pepper, who has been vocal about not liking to wear a mask.
“Mr. Pepper says, ‘It’s not my fault,’ but he’s got to understand that (the City Council is) responsible. If they went out and removed all of the stop signs, it would be their fault if someone died or got hurt,” McCandless said.
McCandless said the councilmen should use good judgment “and don’t just pander” to get votes.
Judy Smith, administrator of the Alabama Department of Public Health Northern District, said she’s "not overly concerned,” but it’s too soon for people to let down their guard on the coronavirus.
According to data from the Alabama Department of Public Health, Morgan County has had 70 new COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks. Smith said 13 Morgan County residents died of the virus in March, and the virus has killed 267 Morgan residents since the pandemic began.
“I know everyone is tired of this but, at this juncture, people need to take personal responsibility by wearing their masks, getting vaccinated and maintaining 6 feet in social distancing,” Smith said.
The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to extend its mask ordinance through May 24. Officials in Huntsville, Madison and Madison County have all indicated they will allow their mask mandates to expire Friday. Limestone County officials will also let expire a mask mandate that applied to county offices.
School systems for Athens, Decatur, Hartselle and Morgan County have said they will continue to require masks in classrooms.