Alabama Governor Kay Ivey today extended the statewide health order that was set to expire Friday, March 5. The modified health order will loosen some restrictions on restaurants and hospitals but will keep the mask mandate in place until April 9.
Masks and other face coverings will still be required in public within six feet when interacting with people not in the same household. This includes all businesses, schools and colleges.
Ivey pledged that after April 9, she will lift the mask mandate, saying that the five-week extension allows for more Alabamaians to be vaccinated.
“There is no question that wearing masks has been one of our greatest tools in combating the spread of the virus,” she said. “That, along with practicing good hygiene and social distancing, has helped us keep more people from getting sick, or worse, dying.”
Ivey said that even after the mask mandate ends, she will continue to wear her mask and will encourage others to do so, too. Ultimately, she said, it will be a matter of personal responsibility.
“While I’m convinced that a mask mandate has been the right thing to do, I also respect those who object and believe that this was a step too far in government overreach,” she said.
The modified health order will implement new guidelines for nursing homes to safely allow residents to gather together, and it will raise the number of caregivers from one to two at both hospitals and nursing homes. Due to these changes, Ivey said that hospitals and other medical facilities will have to update their visitation guidelines.
The order will eliminate the restrictions on party size at restaurants, as long as tables are separated by partitions or spaced out by at least six feet. The new guidelines will also allow summer camps for children to resume in the coming months.
Ivey expressed optimism about where the state is headed, but she called on citizens to be patient as restrictions are eased and vaccines are distributed.
“Because of your personal responsibility and strong adherence to our safety protocols, we are finally rounding the corner,” she said.
Dr. Scott Harris, the state health officer, said Alabama will be receiving 100,000 first doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines within the coming week. In addition, the state will receive a shipment of 40,000 one-dose vaccines made by Johnson & Johnson.
Harris said he remains optimistic that Alabama is heading in the right direction as the state is administering about 150,000 vaccines a week.
“We’ve got a few more months, but we’re much closer to the end than we’ve ever been, and I know we’re going to get there soon,” he said.
The state COVID-19 dashboard indicates that more than one million vaccinations have been administered in Alabama. The dashboard also shows that more than 10,000 Alabamaians have died from COVID-19.
According to national data collected by the New York Times, Alabama ranks 47th in its vaccine rollout and administration. At least one shot has been administered to 14% of the population. Top-performing states include Alaska and New Mexico, both of which have a rate of 23%.
The health order extension comes after Mississippi and Texas lifted coronavirus restrictions this week, citing a decline in both hospitalizations and positive cases.
Ivey has faced criticism over the mandate from state officials like Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, who has opposed statewide coronavirus restrictions since the beginning of the pandemic. Ainsworth issued a statement on Wednesday calling on the governor to follow the lead of Texas and Mississippi.
“I urge Gov. Kay Ivey to immediately lift the statewide mask mandate and allow citizens and local officials the liberty to make the decisions that best fit their circumstances,” Ainsworth said. “Rescinding the blanket mask order and lifting capacity restrictions and other limitations will also send the loud, clear, and unmistakable message that Alabama is once again fully open for business.”
In light of the criticisms, Ivey said that she and Harris felt confident that the extension was the right move.
“Maybe they don’t have access to the same data I do,” she said. “If we keep it up and get through Easter, we’ll be in a whole lot better shape.”