MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Alabama will continue on with a mask mandate, unlike some other Southern states, at least until after Easter. That’s according to Gov. Kay Ivey, who announced Thursday her decision to extend the state’s emergency COVID-19 health orders through April 9.
Ivey, who stated that masks have been one of the best tools available to fight the pandemic, wanted to be “abundantly clear” that this will be her last extension that imposes a state requirement on people to wear a mask in public and in businesses. Once it expires, she said it will be up to the individual person and businesses to determine if face masks will be used.
Ivey said she, personally, will continue wearing her mask when around others and called on others to use common sense in wearing one, but added it will be a matter of personal responsibility, not government mandate if they choose to do so.
Ivey, who spoke along with State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, said her decision to keep the mask mandate in place was so businesses have ample time to implement policies of their own and to make any adjustments they would like ahead of April 9.
Her decision runs counter to those of other states like Texas and Mississippi, who have dropped their mandates as the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have plummeted with the rise in vaccinations.
Ivey said all indications are that Alabama is “moving in the right direction” but said “even with this positive news, however, Dr. Harris and I are both convinced that we need to get past Easter, and hopefully allow more Alabamians to get their first shot before we take a step some other states have taken to remove the mask order all together and lift other restrictions.”
Ivey said there will be other changes that loosen the constraints of the health order. Those will affect hospitals and nursing homes, senior citizen centers, restaurants and bars, as well as summer camps.
HOSPITALS AND NURSING HOMES - Subject to reasonable restrictions, patients and residents will be allowed visits from as many as two caregivers (up from one) or as many as two visitors (up from one) at a time.
SENIOR CITIZEN CENTERS - Programs other than congregate meals may resume, but only outdoors and subject to guidelines by the Alabama Department of Senior Services. Meals will still be available by curbside pick-up or delivery.
RESTAURANTS, BARS AND BREWERIES - Still may open, but with no limit on party size at tables. However, the establishments will still be required to have partitions or 6 feet between tables and additional sanitation rules and guidelines.
SUMMER CAMP - Still may open subject to social-distancing and sanitation rules and guidelines, which now mirror the one used for schools.
Ivey’s decision comes amid increasing pressure on both sides to either extend or eliminate the emergency health orders, which have been in place for more than eight months.
Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, a vocal opponent of the orders, as well as a number of Republican lawmakers have called on the governor to let the orders expire. But medical professionals, along with the Alabama Hospital Association, have urged her to extend them.
“While I’m convinced that a mask mandate has been the right thing to do,” Ivey stated, “I also respect those who object and believe this was a step too far in government overreach...bottom line is, we’ve kept the mask mandate in place for more than a generous period of time because it’s helped. And as a result of the people of our state doing their part, we have seen dramatic results and real progress being made.”
Wednesday, the Alabama Department of Public Health reported that Alabama surpassed 10,000 COVID-19 deaths. There have been nearly 500,000 total cases of coronavirus in Alabama since the start of the pandemic almost one year ago.
According to ADPH, 1,475,925 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been delivered to Alabama, and just over 1 million of those, or about 68 percent, have been administered.