The city of Mobile has now joined other large cities in the state by requiring face coverings be worn in public for at least the next month to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
The ordinance, approved by the City Council on a 6-1 vote, went into effect on Friday, July 3, and is expected to sunset at the end of the month when Gov. Kay Ivey’s “Safer at Home” health order expires.
“If we have to endure a few moments, a few days so we can live, so more people in our community can live, then I’m all for it,” Council President Levon Manzie said.
Opponents of the ordinance challenged the efficacy of masks and even doubted the seriousness of the virus.
Others questioned the municipal government’s ability to enforce a face-covering ordinance on constitutional grounds. One man refused to give councilors his name and address over fear of attack from members of “antifa.”
Jennifer Poor suggested the council and mayor more strongly encourage the wearing of masks instead of forcing residents to do it. She suggested the city work with businesses on a plan that would be easier to enforce, rather than mandate the face coverings at the governmental level.
Though he shared some of his colleagues’ concerns about the disease itself, Councilman John Williams, who voted against the ordinance, criticized the speed with which they passed the ordinance. He also questioned some of the definitions, including the term “crowded sidewalk” or the type of fabric used for masks.
“To me, a crowded sidewalk means New York City on New Year’s Eve, or in Mobile, Alabama, at the MoonPie near the stage,” he said. “We need to be very careful when we make statements.”
Mike Lewis, communications director for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, told Lagniappe in an email the determination of whether a face-covering ordinance is legally sound is two fold: “whether they were properly enacted from a procedural standpoint and whether they were drafted narrowly enough to withstand constitutional scrutiny.”
“We are unable to comment on efforts in Mobile,” he wrote.
City spokesman George Talbot told Lagniappe the ordinance would not apply to bar and restaurant patrons. The ordinance, which will sunset in a month, also does not impact residents in their personal vehicles or homes. Children under the age of 10 are also exempt from the ordinance. The ordinance also does not apply to residents or others who have a medical issue that prevents them from wearing a mask.
Face coverings are not required at church services, a list of frequently asked questions distributed by Stimpson’s office confirmed. However, organizers of religious gatherings are strongly encouraged to wear masks, in accordance with Ivey’s health orders. Face coverings are not required in private office settings, either.
It does not apply to customers at gyms, or to athletes participating in sporting events. However, it does apply to spectators, as well as athletes and officials who are not participating in an event.
Face coverings will be required at parks and on sidewalks where propper social distancing — around six feet of separation — can not be implemented. The coverings, which can be made of simple fabric or cloth and do not need to be medical grade, are also required in retail stores and their parking lots, and for public transportation, including taxi, Uber and Lyft rides.
Face coverings are required for employees of barber shops, gyms, entertainment venues, bars and restaurants. Patrons of those establishments do not have to wear them. Masks will also be required for employees at childcare facilities “to the greatest extent practicable.”
Face coverings are required for summer camp employees, but not campers. Employees at doctors’ and dentists’ offices must also wear masks.
Violations of the new ordinance can result in a fine of $50 for a first offense or $100 for each subsequent offense, but Stimpson also acknowledged the difficulty in enforcing the ordinance. He said police officers are ultimately just looking for compliance, adding the city would be distributing 24,000 masks to officers to hand out to residents not wearing them.
“Our focus will be to help citizens comply with this,” he said. “I really believe we can make this work.”
Residents in need of a mask can pick one up at any of the five city police stations.
During the meeting, Stimpson and councilors argued a mask ordinance could actually help keep businesses open because patrons who hadn’t ventured out of their homes much would feel more comfortable doing so. Some also noted a number of local businesses have already had to temporarily close to disinfect after staff members tested positive for the disease.
“Some businesses in my district have closed for good,” Councilwoman Gina Gregory said. “People are afraid to go into shops.They’re older people, but they have money to spend and they want to go into brick-and-mortar shops.”
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