Ivey Extends Face Mask Order But Not For Long

 1540615729 
1614854345

Hal Yeager, Office of Gov. Ivey

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey extended a statewide face mask order Thursday, but announced plans to lift it next month. The new order ends April 9. She said this will give businesses and other organizations time to implement policies and make adjustments of their own.

The mask order has been in place since July.

“There’s no question that wearing masks has been one of our greatest tools in combating the spread of the virus,” Ivey said. “Even when we lift the mask order, I will continue to wear my mask while I’m around others and strongly urge my fellow citizens to use common sense and do the same thing. But at that time it will become a matter of personal responsibility and not government mandate.”

The amended health order relaxed other COVID restrictions. Restaurants are no longer limited to eight diners at a table, although tables must still be socially distanced or separated by barriers.

In hospitals, patients are now allowed two caregivers at a time. Similarly, residents of long-term care facilities can have two visitors at a time.

Senior centers can host programs outside as long as there are no meals. The order also set out requirements for overnight youth camps. Despite the loosening of some rules, the order maintains social distancing and sanitation requirements for an array of businesses, organizations and locations.

Public health leaders have been urging Ivey to extend the mask requirement. They argued Alabama risks backsliding on progress made during the pandemic and that more time is needed to vaccinate more people.

New cases have been dropping in recent weeks, and hospitalizations statewide are down to a level not seen since June. But health experts are concerned about the spread of more transmissible variants.

Dr. Don Williamson, president and CEO of the Alabama Hospital Association, said he supports Ivey’s extension of the mask mandate. But he said the state must vaccinate as many people as possible and increase the state’s herd immunity level before the mask mandate expires next month.

“So that once the mask mandate comes off, if unfortunately people make the decision not to wear their mask, we have enough immunity in the population that we don’t see a substantial increase in cases,” Williamson said.

Alabama is moving in the right direction to curb the spread of the virus, Williamson said. At least one million Alabamians have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to state health officials.

But health experts say it’s unclear whether a fully vaccinated person can transmit the virus. That’s why experts say it’s important to still wear a face mask until herd immunity is reached. Williamson said it will be up to Alabamians to use common sense.

“The expectation is, even if the government doesn’t mandate it that people should continue to wear their mask, even after April 9th,” he said.

Gov. Ivey, a Republican, has faced pressure from members of her own party who have urged her to drop the face mask requirement. Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth said in a statement the order infringes on individual rights and is a “Big Brother-style government mandate.” He said ending the order would send a message the state is “fully open for business.” Republican governors in Texas and Mississippi ended their mask orders this week.

Suzanne Humphries Evans, co-owner of Birmingham restaurant Automatic Seafood, said she appreciates Ivey’s extension of the mask mandate, but she has no plans to make any changes. The restaurant will continue to limit indoor seating and expand outdoor dining as the weather warms.

“[We are] not yet comfortable exposing our staff any further until all have had a chance to complete their vaccine doses,” Evans said.

Alabama administered its one-millionth coronavirus vaccine shot this week. About 7% of Alabamians have received two doses of a COVID vaccine, with 13% receiving their first.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 3:30 p.m.

Janae Pierre, Miranda Fulmore and Mary Scott Hodgin contributed reporting.

News from WBHM will never be behind a paywall. Ever. We need your help to keep our coverage free for everyone. Please consider supporting the news you rely on with a donation today. You can support our journalism for as little as $5. Every contribution, no matter the size, propels our vital coverage. Thank you.

 

3 things to watch for in the new Birmingham school board

With over half of its members new and millions of dollars in federal pandemic relief funding, the new Birmingham City school board is ready to tackle education with a fresh perspective. WBHM talked to incoming, outgoing and returning members about what Birmingham teachers, students and residents can expect.

Women will hold the majority on the Birmingham City Council over the next four years

Starting this Tuesday, the makeup of the Birmingham City Council changes when it swears in three new members.

Community leaders call for ‘fair maps’ ahead of special session on reapportionment

State legislators will meet Thursday for their second special session of the year. This time they'll vote on new legislative maps following the 2020 census.

WBHM selected to be part of America Amplified initiative

WBHM has been chosen as one of only 20 stations nationwide to be part of national initiative called America Amplified that prioritizes meaningful in-person and online engagement in order to build trust, expand audiences and deepen the impact of public media journalism.

COVID vaccines for young children could be approved soon. Are Gulf States prepared?

Kids between the ages of 5-11 years old might be able to get vaccinated in the near future. Here’s why it would be a game-changer for the Gulf States, and how they’re preparing for the shot’s rollout.

Birmingham takes part in Embrace Mothers guaranteed income pilot

Single-mother households represent about 60% of all Birmingham households with children, according to Mayor Randall Woodfin's office. The mothers involved in the program will receive $375 a month for a year.

More Coronavirus Coverage