By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
On Thursday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey extended Alabama’s statewide mask order to April 9.
Ivey was joined by State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris to announce an extension of the state’s existing Safer at Home Order that requires mask wearing in public places and gatherings.
“We are definitely moving in the right direction and I want to thank the people of Alabama for their tremendous help and support to get us where we are,” said Ivey. “Dr. Harris and I are both convinced that we need to get past Easter and hopefully allow more Alabamians to get their first vaccine shot before we take a step some other states have taken to remove the mask order all together and lift all of the restrictions. We’re not there yet but we’re getting closer.”
Ivy said she would not extend the mask order beyond April 9. “After that it will be personal responsibility,” she said. “Alabamians are smart, they’ve got good common sense, they know what works.”
The governor also said, “There is no question that wearing masks has been one of our greatest tools in combating the spread of the virus that along with practicing good hygiene and social distancing has helped us keep more people from getting sick, or worse dying,” she said. “Even when we lift the mask order, I will continue to wear my mask 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 a government mandate.”
State officials said they were proud of the number of people who have received vaccines.
As of Thursday, the state of Alabama already reached a significant milestone with vaccine rollout, having administered one million vaccines in just about three months.
“We do see some bright spots finally. Our hospitalization numbers are as good as they have looked since very early summer,” said Harris. “The numbers of daily case numbers and new case numbers are continuing to improve . . . our vaccination numbers continue to increase and yesterday, we gave the one millionth shot and as of this morning we are at 1,003,396 shots.
To stay on the right track, Harris said continued vaccination is the goal, especially those in the most at-risk communities.
“All across the country, it is African Americans in our country who are most at risk for dying from this disease and so many cases those are communities who lack access and they cannot get the vaccine easily,” said Harris. “That is not a new problem with COVID but a longstanding problem and we are working very hard to make sure that those communities have access. Like most states, we’re using a federal tool called Social Vulnerability Index [SVI]to make sure our most at risk communities are prioritized for receiving vaccine.”
Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., Director of the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases, said she was pleased Ivey extended the mask ordinance.
“We are not yet out of the woods with the pandemic,” Marrazzo said. “We still see new cases of COVID-19 daily, and we still see 1,000 to 2,000 deaths a day in the United States, and that’s tragic. We need to persevere until more of the population is vaccinated before we begin to relax the masking and social distancing efforts that have helped to lessen the rate of infection.”
Brandon Farmer, CEO and President of the Alabama Nursing Home Association, said, “The declining cases are a welcome sign, and we hope they point to brighter days ahead. The vaccine roll out has been successful and our member nursing homes continue to follow infection control guidance from the state and federal governments. We think these factors are contributing to the decline in cases.”