Ivey extends mask mandate until April 9

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Governor Kay Ivey gave an update on the Coronavirus during a press conference Thursday March 4, 2021 in Montgomery, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday extended the state’s Safer at Home Order, including the mask mandate, until Friday, April 9 at 5 p.m. It had been set to expire March 5. She was joined in a press conference by State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris.

“As of Tuesday, Alabama has seen the lowest average for daily new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations since late June. Y’all, this is definitely an indication we’re moving in the right direction. I want to thank Alabamians for their tremendous help and support to get us where we are. However, even with this positive news, Dr. Harris and I believe more Alabamians need to get their first shot before we take the next step. Folks, we’re not there yet, but we’re getting close,” Ivey said in a statement.

While acknowledging the positive trends across the state, the governor said the new, modified order will ease up on some restrictions while maintaining the mask order, which she said she will not extend past April 9.

“Dr. Harris and I are both convinced that we need to get past Easter and hopefully allow more Alabamians to get their first shot,” she said, “before we take a step some other states have taken to remove the mask order all together and lift other restrictions. Folks, we’re not there yet, but goodness knows we’re getting closer.”

The modified Safer at Home Order makes changes concerning senior citizens, summer camps, restaurants, hospitals and nursing homes.

Here are the changes:

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 still available by curbside pick-up or delivery.

RESTAURANTS, BARS AND BREWERIES

Still may open, but with no limit on party size at tables. Still required: 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. The social-distancing requirement was changed to mirror the one used for schools.

See more at https://governor.alabama.gov/assets/2021/03/GKI-Health-Order-Update-04.09.21-Vertical.pdf.

Harris reminded those listening that Alabama passed the grim milestone of 10,000 COVID-19 deaths recently, before delivering some better news on vaccinations.

“We have lost more than 10,000 of our friends and family and church members and work colleagues,” he said. “It’s just a reminder of what a tough year we’ve had in 2020.”

He continued, “That said, we do see some bright spots, finally. Our hospitalization numbers are as good as they have looked since very early summer… new case numbers are continuing to improve. We’re very proud of our vaccination numbers; they continue to increase, and as the governor mentioned to you, yesterday, we gave the one-millionth shot.”

Harris said there are more than 1,200 providers across the state enrolled to administer vaccines, although not all have vaccine available due to the numbers of vaccines available.

He said next week the state will receive more than 100,000 first-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, along with 40,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. He said after next week, the state will not receive more Johnson & Johnson product for at least three weeks.

People eligible for a vaccine in the state of Alabama are those recognized in Phases 1a and 1b and parts of Phase 1c of the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) Vaccine Allocation Plan.

View the allocation plan at www.alabamapublichealth.gov/covid19vaccine/assets/adph-covid19-vaccination-allocation-plan.pdf.

Cullman Wal-Mart on Olive Street began administering COVID-19 vaccines Feb. 26. Vaccinations are given by appointment only. To schedule an appointment, go to www.walmart.com/COVIDvaccine.

Sign up on the waiting list for Cullman Regional’s Community COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic by visiting https://cullmanregional.com/coronavirus-2/community-covid-19-vaccination-clinics/.

The Cullman County Health Department offers appointment-only vaccinations. It is located at 601 Logan Ave. SW in Cullman.

Appointments with enrolled providers and the Cullman County Health Department can be made in the COVID-19 Vaccination Eligibility Check and Scheduling Portal at www.alcovidvaccine.gov/.

Leading up to Thursday’s announcement, Alabama doctors and health officials urged the governor to extend the order, saying recent positive trends could be reversed if the mask mandate were lifted prior to more people being vaccinated.  

“It just seems to me until we get more people vaccinated, the most prudent thing to do is to stay the course and continue to try to drive these numbers down, especially because we are still worried about the U.K. variant and the South African variant,” Dr. Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association, told the Associated Press.

On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth urged Ivey to lift the mandate, just as the states of Texas and Mississippi have done.

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Wendy Sack

wendy@cullmantribune.com