CONTINUING TO COVER UP: Decisions split on masks after mandate ends

J.R. Tidwell, The News Courier, Athens, Ala.
·3 min read

Apr. 7—The statewide mask mandate ends 5 p.m. Friday, and Gov. Kay Ivey has said there will not be an extension this time around.

Instead, she said businesses will be allowed to make their own call on whether or not to require customers wear masks or simply encourage doing so.

"After April 9, masks will no longer be a mandate, but they remain one of the most successful tools we have to keep folks safe from COVID-19," Ivey said. "I hope these are helpful to businesses around the state as they set their own protocols to operate safely. Masks are soon to be a memory, but until then, lets wear them out."

This has also left entities like cities and school systems to make their own decisions on facial coverings, and thoughts are split when it comes to Athens and the city's school system.

Superintendent Beth Patton announced Tuesday that students and staff in Athens City Schools will be required to continue wearing masks through the end of the school year.

"All other safety precautions and measures will remain in place until the end of the school year," Patton said in a letter to parents. "This includes social distancing, visitor restrictions and sanitizing protocols. We are grateful for your continued cooperation and support as we work together to finish the school year safe and strong."

Patton told The News Courier that it was not an easy decision to make, as there are strong feelings held on both sides of the facial covering argument.

She said a survey was sent out to faculty members in the system asking their thoughts on the topic, and Patton said they overwhelmingly supported extending the ACS mask ordinance to the end of the school year, saying it made them feel safer.

"Wearing facial coverings is still being recommended by the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and we have had such good luck this school year in preventing the spread of the virus," she said. "We have several employees who have not had a chance to get a vaccine yet."

Limestone County Schools spokesperson Ashley Graves said as of Tuesday, Superintendent Randy Shearouse and the system had yet to decide if LCS would require masks for the rest of the school year. She said an official decision was expected by the end of the week.

Mayor Ronnie Marks told The News Courier that he would release an official statement on the subject later in the week as well. He said he would likely follow Ivey's thoughts on the matter and leave local businesses to make their own protocols on whether or not patrons had to wear masks.

Marks said he still encourages people to mask and social distance because "the situation isn't over yet."

"We have taken some very good steps in lowering the number of COVID cases, but it is something that should still be taken seriously," Marks said. "If business owners put signs in their doors and require masks, they should have the right to do so."