Ivey extends mask mandate to March 5; Harris gives vaccine rollout update

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State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, left, and Gov. Kay Ivey, center, addressed the public Thursday. (Screen capture/ FOX10 News)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday extended the state’s Safer at Home Order, including the statewide mask mandate, through March 5 at 5 p.m. It had been set to expire Jan. 22. Ivey was joined by State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, who gave an update on the Alabama Department of Public Health’s (ADPH’s) COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

“The mask mandate remains the one step we can all take in order to keep some balance in our daily lives and stay healthy and safe,” said Ivey. “Quite frankly, we’ve run out of ways to underscore the importance of taking this virus seriously, and ironically, it’s not very complicated. Wear your mask, wash your hands, sanitize the places where you are, and if you’re experiencing symptoms, please go get tested and wait until you receive the results before you interact with others.”

She continued, “Even as we continue to practice personal responsibility, y’all, I want to also urge patience. As everyone knows, the vaccine rollout has begun, and Dr. Harris and his team (sic) are working around the clock to get shots in arms. And I’d like to personally thank the staff at ADPH who work seven days a week, diligently, and they receive no public acknowledgement.”

Harris provided an update on the vaccine rollout in the state, acknowledging that many members of the public are “angry and frustrated” and don’t understand the state’s vaccine program or how or where they can get the vaccine. He said the biggest hindrance in the rollout is the available supply of vaccine.

“I want you to know that we hear all of those people who are saying that and share a lot of their frustration as well,” he said. “It’s my responsibility to make sure that you get a vaccine, and I will do that. Our team will make sure that you get a vaccine if you want to get a vaccine in this state.”

Alabama is currently in Phase 1a and part of Phase 1b of its COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Plan, which includes those 75 and older, first responders and health care workers. According to Alabama’s COVID-19 Dashboard Hub, the state has been allocated 640,150 doses so far, but only 446,150 have been delivered. Of those, 202,643 have been administered. Harris said many of the remaining doses are those held back as second doses for residents who’ve received their first doses, as well as doses already marked for eligible residents who have upcoming vaccination appointments.

Harris spoke to the ADPH’s plan to accelerate the vaccine plan.

“People certainly have a right to expect that we can do things faster,” he said. “I think we can also do things faster.”

Harris said county health departments have been instructed to administer vaccines “all day every day until they run out,” but said the health departments do not have additional vaccine doses at this time. He said the only doses the departments had as of Thursday were second doses and those held for already scheduled appointments. He also said the ADPH is contacting all vaccine providers personally to ascertain what supply they have remaining. He said they are all required to report those numbers, but some are having technical difficulties. He said if the ADPH finds cases where providers are not administering the vaccine as they should be, then those doses will be redistributed to other providers.

“In fact, we have already begun doing that this week,” he said. “We moved some vaccine yesterday.”

Harris said each provider will be given a week to administer the majority of the doses they receive.

He said the ADPH has worked out a partnership with Wal-Mart to begin administering the vaccine, saying, “We have talked to them for some time, and we’re awaiting the rollout of a federal program that was expected to bring in the chain pharmacies.” He gave no other details about the Wal-Mart partnership or when it might begin.

He said the ADPH is working on an online vaccination sign-up portal. The phone lines set up to make vaccination appointments have been overwhelmed, he said, as “more than 50%” of the callers are not eligible at this time to receive the vaccine.

Harris said there are 502 providers around the state that are set up to administer the vaccine, but due to supply, only a little more than half of those have actually received the vaccine.

Those eligible to receive a vaccine in Alabama right now are:

Phase 1a

  • Frontline health workers, including clinical and non‐clinical workers in hospitals, nursing homes, EMS, or those providing in‐home mental health care directly
  • Health care workers or laboratory personnel collecting or handling potential SARS‐CoV‐2 specimens
  • Residents and staff of nursing homes and long-term care facilities (Provided by the Long Term Care Pharmacy Program)
  • Pathologists performing autopsies on persons known or suspected to have had SARS-CoV-2 at the time of death
  • Other health care workers who perform activities such as transportation or environmental services who risk exposure to bodily fluids or aerosols
  • Other essential personnel with high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of SARS-CoV-2 such as mortuary services
  • Persons providing direct patient care
  • Persons working in critical health care services who have direct contact with the general public, such as pharmacists
  • Others with outpatient exposure risks such as non-hospital-based physicians, nurse practitioners, dentists, laboratorians, other providers and ancillary support staff in additional settings: private offices, federally qualified health centers, county health departments, subspecialties, mental health and treatment centers

 

(Parts of) Phase 1 b

  • Persons 75 and older
  • First responders including firefighters and law enforcement

 

“I’d like to once again thank the people of Alabama,” said Ivey. “Thank you for keeping on, keeping on and being willing to take the vaccine. We’ll get through this thing together.”

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Wendy Sack

wendy@cullmantribune.com