By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday extended a statewide mask order into March as the state continues to face high numbers of COVID-19 cases and the vaccination rollout has been hindered by a limited supply.
“The mask mandate remains one step we can all take in order to keep some balance in our daily lives and remain healthy and safe,” Ivey said during a news conference at the state Capitol.
The Republican governor said the state saw a record-setting surge of cases in the wake of winter holidays. Although the state is beginning to emerge from that spike, state hospitalizations remain high. Ivey said that at one point last week the state had only 39 empty intensive care unit beds.
The order, which has been in place since July, requires face masks in public when interacting within 6 feet with people from another household. The mask order will last until 5 p.m. March 5.
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Thousands of people this week flocked to vaccination sites as the state began inoculating people 75 and older in addition to first responders and health care workers. But thousands more jammed state lines trying unsuccessfully to get an appointment.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said the biggest obstacle to vaccination is the available supply.
“We’ve certainly heard from many people in the public who are angry and frustrated about the vaccine program because they don’t feel they understand how they can get a vaccine. I want you to know we hear all of those people and we share some of those frustrations as well,” Harris said.
Harris said they are working to get the vaccinations out as quickly as possible.
“If you are a person who wants vaccine in Alabama, you are going to get that,” he said.
The state of nearly 5 million people has so far had 446,000 vaccine doses delivered, according to state numbers. The state has administered 184,000 doses so far. There are more than 600,000 people who are currently eligible for the vaccinations.
Nearly 60% of Alabama’s received doses have not been administered, according to state numbers. Harris said many of those doses are already spoken for in scheduled appointments or are second doses that will be administered at the appropriate time.
He said state hospitals “by and large” are out of vaccine and the doses they have “have a name attached to it” through upcoming appointments. Harris also said they are trying to accelerate the pace of vaccinations.
Any providers that are not using their doses could see those taken back by the state and redistributed, Harris said. County health departments are being directed to do vaccinations all day, every day until they run out.
He said the state is entering into a partnership with Walmart to do vaccinations, although details of that have not been announced
“People certainly have a right to expect we can do things faster. I also think we can do things faster,” Harris said, but added that supply remains the chief limiting factor.