By Michael Tomberlin
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is extending a statewide order to wear masks in public until Oct. 2, saying the state has made great strides in reducing the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.
“I wish we didn’t have to wear masks, but we are seeing significant drops in our hospitalizations and daily positive COVID-19 numbers and I have no doubt that this is the result of our mask ordinance,” Ivey said. “Wearing a mask is simply the right thing to do. When you wear a mask, you are protecting the people in your office, church, school and your vulnerable family and friends.”
The governor extended for five weeks the existing Safer at Home order with the same guidelines on public gatherings and limits to business occupancy, along with the face covering mandate that have been in effect since July 16. The previous order was extended on July 29 and was set to expire Aug. 31 at 5 p.m.
Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris joined Ivey at a press conference today announcing the extension.
He said since the pandemic began, there have been nearly 120,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alabama, with more than 14,000 hospitalizations and almost 2,000 confirmed or probable deaths.
“We are cautiously optimistic about what we’ve been seeing recently since the governor’s mask mandate went into effect,” Harris said. “We have definitely seen improvements in our daily number of new cases … the daily average number of deaths are declining, the number of hospitalizations have declined significantly and are as low as they’ve been since before the Fourth of July holiday. On top of that, the percentage of tests we’ve seen that are positive has also declined from almost 17% in mid-July down to around 8% now. All of those are indicating that we have less transmission going on in the community. We believe the mask mandate is the reason for that.”
Those in the health care industry are among those supporting the move.
“Over the past week, hospitals have begun to see a decline in hospitalizations due to COVID-19, clearly a result of the increased use of masks and social distancing,” said Dr. Donald E. Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association. “Our hospitals are extremely grateful to the Governor and to our State Health Officer for extending the mask order through Oct. 2. The decrease in cases we’ve experienced is evidence that masks work to save lives and can help keep businesses and schools open.”
Ivey sympathized with those tired of wearing face coverings.
“Folks, I understand you don’t want to wear the mask. I don’t either,” she said. “My glasses fog up. I can’t understand what people are saying because of the muffled effect that the masks have on conversations.”
But the need for adhering to the mask order and social distancing rules will intensify in the days ahead, which will see a holiday weekend and the start of college football.
“Labor Day is coming up and, based on our experience with the Fourth of July and with Memorial Day, we certainly do have some trepidation about what holiday gatherings could bring,” Harris said. “It is really important for Alabamians to hang in there just a little bit longer with us. We really need people to be careful about mixing with other households. We need them to really be observant with wearing their face coverings, hand-washing and all of those things that we’ve been saying for so long.”
Ivey said the need for masks and social distancing doesn’t end after school and work when gathering with those outside of one’s own household. They are increasingly necessary with the state’s favorite fall pastime.
“This includes high school football games as well as college games when they kick off their season,” Ivey said.
Both Ivey and Harris commended the moves by Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and University of Alabama President Stuart Bell for taking measures to try to control the spread of COVID-19 among the college student population, including cutting campus events and closing bars and clubs.
Ivey lamented the sacrifices COVID-19 has required.
“This year has certainly not gone the way we thought it would,” she said. “Our businesses have been disrupted, our school year has been altered considerably and we’ve lost loved ones to this virus. Today we are seeing the positive results from the sacrifices we are making.”
Harris said sticking with the current orders will help prevent greater sacrifices going forward.
“We know that we’re asking you to do something that no one likes to do, but I think most Alabamians have done a great job in wearing masks and we would encourage you to continue doing that,” he said. “Make sure to cover your mouth as well as your nose when you wear a mask, but we appreciate your willingness to do what it takes to keep this disease from spreading.”
Harris reminded Alabamians that flu season is approaching and just because there is a pandemic doesn’t mean you should forget to protect yourself against the flu by getting a flu shot.
Ivey was appreciative of the people’s efforts thus far.
“Let me again thank the people of Alabama for your understanding, for your patience, for your support and for your willingness to help us get through these very difficult days.”