Alabama will not force people to wear face coverings in public beginning the weekend after the Easter holiday, joining other states that have laid out plans this week to end mask mandates.
Governor Kay Ivey said on Thursday she will extend a mask-wearing rule to April 9, after which time the order will be allowed to expire.
The move follows similar actions by fellow Republican governors in Texas and Mississippi to end mask mandates in their states and allow businesses to operate at full capacity, encouraged by the vaccine rollout and declines in coronavirus cases and hospitalisations. The decisions drew criticism from some lawmakers who said the rollback in coronavirus rules went too far.
When asked about mask mandates ending in Texas and Mississippi, Joe Biden accused the governors of “Neanderthal thinking”. Mississippi governor Tate Reeves swiped back on Twitter, saying “I guess I just think we should trust Americans, not insult them”.
Jim Justice, the Republican governor of West Virginia, said that while the state will eventually end its mask mandate, it currently has no plans to do so. “I don’t know really what the big rush to get rid of the mask is because these masks have saved a lot, a lot of lives,” he said in a CNN interview.
Ivey plans to continue wearing a mask herself when she is around other people, but the issue will be “a matter of personal responsibility and not a government mandate”, she said during a press conference. Texas and Mississippi also maintained recommendations to wear masks when social distancing was not possible.
“Alabamians are smart. They have good common sense. They know what works. But after (April) 9th, we’re not having a mask mandate,” Ivey said.
Alabama also loosened some restrictions on businesses and social activity, beginning on Saturday. Restaurants and bars will no longer be required to limit party size at each table, while summer camps can operate with social distancing and other health measures.