MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Alabama became the latest in a growing number of states to require the use of facial masks when in public, Gov. Kay Ivey confirmed Wednesday morning.
About half of all states now have some statewide face mask requirement in place, the latest effort to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under Ivey’s order, citizens must wear a mask in public when interacting within six feet of people from a different household. The order goes into effect Thursday at 5 p.m. and stays in effect until at least July 31, the day the governor’s amended Safer At Home order is set to expire.
The penalty for violating the order can result in a $500 fine and/or jail time, Ivey said. But she added the goal is not for law enforcement to search for violators, rather it‘s to get people to use masks.
The governor said she doesn’t want to close things down again unless absolutely necessary and that she wants to preserve the livelihood of small business owners and workers.
Among the order’s main points are that each person is to wear a mask or facial covering that covers the nostrils and mouth at all times when within six feet of a person from another household. The order is to be in effect at any indoor space open to the general public, a vehicle operated by a transportation service, or an outdoor public space where 10 or more people are gathered.
This facial-covering requirement is subject to some exceptions which can be found HERE.
Ivey’s decision comes the day after Alabama hit a grim milestone when the state confirmed 40 coronavirus deaths, a record for the most in a single day. It was also the ninth straight day in which more than 1,000 people were hospitalized.
Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said Wednesday will also break records with between 40 and 45 new deaths.
Harris added that a full one-third of the state’s cases have been added in the last two weeks and that the number is not a reflection of increased testing as the percentage of positive tests is climbing. For the current week, he expects between 16 and 17 percent will return affirmative for COVID-19.
Ivey had long resisted calls for such an order saying there was no way to enforce it. Instead, she publicly called for people to voluntarily wear the masks and left it up to local governments to issue such orders.
Some municipalities have since adopted the requirement including Montgomery, Birmingham, Mobile, Tuscaloosa, Selma and others.
“Each area is unique and is working with their own set of data specific to their town or city, which is why the governor supports the decisions of local governments or businesses to require masks to be worn,” the governor’s office said in an email a week ago.
But there have been calls for a statewide mask order, including from the Alabama Hospital Association.
The association’s executive director, Dr. Don Williamson said during an interview Tuesday morning that hospitals continue to be stressed. He has warned the healthcare system cannot support the sustained increase of COVID-19 patients for long.
Williamson added that he believes the state is now starting to see an uptick in the number of cases from July 4 gatherings, but not holiday-related hospitalizations, which typically lag.
“We just think it’s time for all of us to take a hard look at our behavior,” Williamsons said in an interview last week. “And so you know wearing a mask may be uncomfortable, but it protects my neighbor. It’s not about liberty, it’s about life.”
On Monday, Dr. Karen Landers with the Alabama Department of Public Health said state data showed about 30 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients might need ICU care with between 12 and 13 percent possibly needing a ventilator.
Harris added during Ivey’s news conference that about 30 hospitals currently have limited or no ICU capacity, and cautioned the state is not headed in right direction. Saying the mask order was the right thing to do, Harris also admitted “we don’t have a lot of options at this time.”
The state’s current amended Safer at Home order isn’t set to expire until July 31. It keeps some restrictions on retailers and businesses. For instance, retailers are required to limit their capacity to 50 percent and have customers seated six feet apart.
On Tuesday, the governor’s office also confirmed Dr. Deborah Birx, a key member of the Trump Administration’s Coronavirus Task Force, would travel to Alabama to meet with Ivey.
While closed to the press and public, Ivey confirmed the meeting will happen Wednesday afternoon and while focus on Alabama since the state has become a hotspot for the virus.
As of Wednesday, the state has confirmed a total of 58,225 cases and 1,183 fatalities related to the pandemic.