Alabamians, including those in schools and colleges, will be required to wear masks in public for at least another month.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey extended the state’s Safer-at-Home order, which includes a statewide mask mandate, on Wednesday. The order will remain in effect until 5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 31.
Ivey said the decision to extend the order and the mandate was not an easy one.
“There’s no way in the world you’re ever going to make everybody happy 100 percent of the time,” she said. “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.”
The mask mandate, which has been in place since mid-July, is being extended to include mandatory mask wearing in schools and colleges when possible for employees and students in second grade and above, according to the order.
“Wearing a mask can’t hurt, but it sure can help,” Ivey said. “And 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.”
Alabama’s previous mask mandate and Safer-at-Home order were set to expire on Friday. The extension of the mask mandate and Safer-at-Home order comes after continued community spread of COVID-19 cases throughout the state.
Despite a steady daily increase of COVID-19 cases in Alabama, Ivey decided not to force businesses to close due to the pandemic.
“The bottom line is we certainly do not need to close our businesses if at all possible,” she said. “We need to keep our people being able to earn a good livelihood [and] keep the economy going."
There were 81,572 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,489 virus-related deaths in Alabama as of Wednesday morning, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH).
Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris believes it’s too early to tell if the statewide mask mandate is making a difference when it comes to hospitalizations.
“Our numbers are not yet particularly encouraging,” he said.
Harris believes that Alabama is still seeing the fallout of Fourth of July celebrations when it comes to COVID-19 cases.
“We had a big spike in numbers after Memorial Day followed by hospital surges,” he said. “I think we have seen something very similar now around the Fourth of July."
Harris, however, is a firm believer that the mask mandate is the right thing for Alabama.
“I’m very aware many people don’t like the idea of having to wear a face covering, and certainly I don’t either,” Harris said. “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.”
Harris added that although messages about mask wearing were mixed at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, mask wearing is the best tool to help stop the spread of the virus.
“Physicians, 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,” he said.
Alabama virus situation
Among the 81,572 Alabamians who have tested positive for COVID-19, more than 5,000 of them are healthcare workers.
Hospitalizations are also at an all-time high in Alabama. There were 1,598 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Alabama as of Tuesday, according to ADPH.
“These numbers are as high as we have ever seen,” Harris said.
Harris said that ADPH is working with state hospitals about the possibility of opening alternate care sites if hospitals can’t handle the surge in patients.
“We have a group that we’re working with through the Alabama National Guard that’s going to assess sites on that around the state on different locations,” he said. “We’ve had some individual requests from communities about how they access federal funding to do that, so we’re in the process of doing that as well.”
These alternate care sites would be similar to a pop-up hospital outside the usual hospital setting, Harris added. He did not indicate when, where or if these alternate care sites will be set up.
Harris said that, for now, there is no trigger number that he is looking at in terms of when the state should start considering closing back down. He is, though, looking at a variety of factors, including how state hospitals are handling the surge in virus patients.
“I think all those factors have to be considered. It’s not just a single number but a lot of different things,” he said.
.@GovernorKayIvey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris will hold a joint press conference today at 11 a.m. CT to provide updates on #COVID19. You can watch it live at https://t.co/nLNRbcW84j or your local news stations. pic.twitter.com/ZOZU9mNj8R— Alabama Public Health (@ALPublicHealth) July 29, 2020
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