Alabama’s Safer at Home Order extended until Aug. 31; masks required in schools

Gov. Kay Ivey speaks at a press conference Wednesday, July 29, 2020. (Screen capture)

Updated 7-29-20 at 3:05 p.m.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday extended the state’s Safer at Home Order until Aug. 31, 2020 at 5 p.m. In addition, the order was amended to require masks in “schools and colleges, where possible, for employees and students in second grade and above.”

Specific wording from the amended order states: “Each employee, and each student in second grade or above, shall, to the greatest extent practicable, wear a mask or other facial covering that covers his or her nostrils and mouth at all times when in regular interaction within six feet of a person from a different household.”

“These decisions are not easy, and they’re certainly not fun,” said Ivey. “There’s no way in the world you’re ever going to make everybody happy 100% of the time. But one thing is for sure. Tough decisions are a lot easier to make when you’re on the sidelines than when you’re actually in the arena. Now I’ve said many times since my very first press conference, back when we are still learning how to pronounce ‘coronavirus,’ that when you’ve been elected governor, you’ve got to try to do the right thing, not necessarily the most popular thing. There is such a fine balance, as we have discussed countless times, in factoring both the human health as well as the economic health into the equation. As I’ve said before my administration and I have made our share of mistakes during this pandemic, but our goal has always been to make more good decisions than bad, hopefully leading to more positive results along the way.”

Ivey said she is aware that many people don’t like the idea of wearing a mask.

“While no one enjoys wearing a mask, I’ll be the first to tell you that because of the help and support we’ve gotten from our friends in retail and business, I believe we are making progress in this arena,” she said. “Y’all, we just must remain vigilant if we’re going to get our kids back in school and keep our economy open. And wearing a mask can’t hurt, but it sure can help. More and more people are seeing this for what it is: a way to protect yourself as well as to protect the others that you work with, come in contact with, care about and those you even love.”

The governor also had a message for the state’s educators, reiterating her support of in-classroom instruction this fall.

“Speaking of our schools, I want to encourage every superintendent, every principal, every teacher and every parent who’s listening- we don’t have the luxury of not getting our young people back in school,” said Ivey. “While I respect those districts that have elected to go to virtual classrooms, I feel with all my heart that a slide will come by keeping our kids at home, especially if there are other options, and that slide is likely to have a dramatic negative impact on Alabama’s future: our young people. So here’s a challenge to all of our school districts and each of our schools around the state: Nothing is set in concrete, and if the COVID-19 situation in your community or counties permits, you should be looking to phase back into in-person classroom participation if at all possible.”

She continued, “We know that with all the responsibilities of being a teacher, that this can be an added burden to require that a mask be worn, but just as we are focused on creating a safe and healthy environment for our students, it’s also important that we take care of our teachers as well. Other than our parents, one of the most important persons in a child’s life is that teacher of that child. And many of our students and their families rely on school for more than just classroom activities. School is a safe place where many of our children get their healthiest meal of the day and where they are loved and encouraged as well as taught. As a former school teacher myself and as president of the state school board, I’m telling you we need to do everything we can to get our kids back in the classroom as soon as possible.”

Both Cullman County Schools and Cullman City Schools are offering traditional and virtual learning options this fall. Both had encouraged the wearing of face masks; now they will need to enforce the new mandate.

“We will give each student three reusable/washable masks, but each family will be responsible for washing them and bringing them back and forth to school,” said Cullman County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette. “We will have disposable masks available in certain cases, but outside of that students are responsible for their own masks.  We will also be providing our faculty and staff with reusable/washable masks and/or face shields.”

The Tribune has not heard specifically from Cullman City Schools Superintendent Dr. Susan Patterson; however, earlier this month the Alabama State Department of Education announced it ordered 2.5 million facial coverings for faculty, staff and students. That is about three per person.

Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris at Wednesday’s press conference gave an update on the state’s COVID-19 numbers.

“As of this morning, we are at 81,687 confirmed cases so far. More than 22,000 of those have been confirmed just in the past two weeks. We added about 1,345 cases yesterday. I think there’s a question as to whether we maybe are flattening out a little bit over the past three to four days, although I think it’s a little early for us to say that. I would say overall our numbers are not yet particularly encouraging. I think we are still continuing to see fallout from the July 4th holiday and the transmission events that we seem to have around that weekend,” he said. “We, unfortunately, are at almost 1,500 deaths here in our state. Actually, 1,493 Alabamians have died from COVID-19 since this response began. Over the past few days, our hospitals have set, several different times all-time highs in the number of inpatients. A couple of days ago, they were right at 1,600 inpatients, I think 1,599 two days ago, 1,598 yesterday, basically, about 1,600 inpatients plus a few hundred other confirmed cases. These numbers are as high as we’ve ever seen. It’s very consistent with what we saw around Memorial Day. We had big spikes in numbers of cases after Memorial Day, followed by hospital surges, and I think we have seen something very similar now, around the 4th of July.”

Harris said more than 5,000 health care workers have been infected since March. He also addressed the face covering mandate.

“I’m very aware that many people don’t like the idea of having to wear a face covering, and certainly I don’t either. I know people don’t like being told what to do, and I don’t either, but I do believe that it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I know, early on, we had mixed messages about that- I personally gave some of those- because we were just trying to give the best evidence that we had at the time, but today there’s no argument about whether these are effective. Physicians and public health officials and medical researchers all have a consensus that this is the best tool that we have right now for preventing transmission of disease, short of everyone being locked in their house, which we certainly don’t intend to see.”

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Wendy Sack