By Hannah Lester
Gov. Kay Ivey’s state-wide mask mandate expires today at 5 p.m. However, businesses are taking different paths when it comes to requiring masks individually.
No one in the state is required to wear a mask anymore, but businesses are allowed to require their masks inside shops and restaurants.
Additionally, Ivey urged personal responsibility during a press conference on Wednesday, and said she would continue to wear her mask when out and about.
“But at that time, it will become a matter of personal responsibility and not government mandate,” Ivey said.
Some businesses are not ready to see maskless faces just yet. Side Track Coffee in Opelika will continue to require masks for both patrons and employees.
“We don’t know all the facts, don’t know what’s going to happen after the mandate,” said Owner David Bizilia. “… It might spike back up, no telling really. So we’re going to use our noggins just a little bit. I think that seems most appropriate to keep it for a while until we see things clearly.”
In the past, there has been mixed reactions to a mask requirement in Side Track, Bizilia said.
“Everyone has so many different opinions and how they landed on their opinions are so different too, like the journey to those opinions are different, and that’s everywhere,” he said. “If I believe that’s true, then I can’t please everyone, and no one can please everyone. But for us, I know my goal is to make people feel comfortable as best as I can.”
Many businesses are choosing to keep masks in place for employees, but not customers.
Owner of Rock N’ Roll Pinball in Opelika, Ernie Rains, said that the policy his business is enacting is different for patrons vs. employees.
Employees at Rock N’ Roll Pinball in Opelika will be required to wear masks until they are fully vaccinated and have waited two weeks since receiving the shot, Rains said.
“The customers are not expected to wear masks,” he said. “It’s up to them.”
Though customers will not be required to mask up, the pinball machines will be six feet apart, Rains said. There are more machines than can be spaced, so some machines are turned off to keep separation.
Wrapsody in Auburn is following a similar protocol.
“We are really letting our customers decide on their own preference, if they’re comfortable wearing one, without wearing one, it’s totally up to them,” said Assistant Manager Maggie Rae Williams.
Staff, however, will still be required to wear masks.
“We just think that that’s going to be the easiest transition into eventually not wearing them at all,” she said.
Other businesses are letting go of masks altogether.
The Owner of J&M Bookstore in Auburn, Trey Johnston, said the business has taken down signs that said masks are required.
Employees can wear masks if they want, but are not required to, he said.
Neither the city of Auburn, nor the city of Opelika are planning to enact city mask ordinances at this point in time, unlike the city of Birmingham.
“For the last year, Auburn residents have done a commendable job following the Alabama Department of Public Health’s guidance to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” said Auburn Mayor Ron Anders. “As the mask mandate comes to an end this Friday at 5:00 p.m., we’re encouraging everyone to continue following the state’s recommendations to wear a mask in public and maintain a six feet distance from those not in your household. COVID-19 remains a real concern, but we are hopeful that the end is in sight as we see a cases declining and vaccinations increasing in our area.”
Anders said that the city will support individual business owners’ right to choose what is best for their business.
“We ask community members to please be observant so you may comply with businesses’ practices, and be considerate of your neighbors as we all navigate this next phase of returning to normal,” he said.
Masks will be required in city buildings and at city events, however, Anders said.
“We’ll also continue to monitor local numbers and respond appropriately,” he said. “I am confident that in the near future our community will be able to resume everyday activities without restrictions.”
Opelika, on the other hand, will not be requiring masks in city buildings, said Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller.
“We’ve encouraged businesses to do what they think is in their best interest,” Fuller said. “And if they want to require a mask before you come into their business, that’s their prerogative.”
Fuller, like Ivey, stressed the importance of personal responsibility.
“This thing is not over, in my opinion,” he said.