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Birmingham extends mask order as Alabama gets vaccine funds

April 6, 2021 GMT

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s largest city on Tuesday extended a mandate requiring face masks in public to slow the spread of COVID-19, even as the statewide mandate expires.

The Birmingham City Council voted to extend the mask requirement through May 24. Gov. Kay Ivey has said the state order will expire Friday, although the governor and state health officials are urging people to continue to voluntarily wear masks.

The decision came on the same day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Alabama will receive $44 million to expand vaccination efforts. Alabama ranks last in the country for the percentage of people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to CDC data.

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Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said the mask ordinance is needed because COVID-19 continues to be a health threat and most people in the city and the state have not been fully vaccinated. Woodfin said many local businesses also urged the city to keep the mask ordinance in place.

“We will continue to make decisions that we believe will save lives. They may not be popular,” Woodfin said.

The mayor urged people to “continue to do their part” during the “fourth quarter of this global health pandemic.”

“We are still in this fight, and one of the ways to continue to win this fight is to continue to wear face masks,” Woodfin said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the federal funds to support local efforts in Alabama to increase vaccine uptake and ensure greater vaccine equity and access for those disproportionately affected by the new coronavirus.

The award is part of $3 billion in funding granted to 64 jurisdictions to boost broad-based vaccine distribution, access and administration efforts.

“Millions of Americans are getting vaccinated every day, but we need to ensure that we are reaching those in the communities hit hardest by this pandemic,” CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky said in a statement.

State Health Officer Scott Harris said the Alabama Department of Public Health has worked to ensure vaccines “are getting to the most vulnerable people in our state, and we are appreciative that additional federal resources are being made available to help Alabama’s drive for vaccine equity.”

Although the state mask order expires Friday, health officials are urging people to voluntarily wear masks.

“There are still very good reasons for most people to wear masks, when they’re going to be public and they can’t distance from others. So, please remember to protect those folks who are most vulnerable,” Harris told The Associated Press on Monday.

Ivey and Harris have scheduled a Wednesday morning press conference to discuss a COVID-19 update.